Tirreno-Adriatico may not have the glamour that Paris-Nice possesses, but it provides an equally searching examination of a stage racer’s all-round ability and can also boast being the platform on which Cadel Evans built his 2011 Tour de France-winning campaign. As such, the ‘Race of the Two Seas’ is an easily underestimated gem in a busy month of racing.
What kind of race is it?
This year sees the 47th running of Tirreno-Adriatico. As its name suggests, the week-long race follows a west-to-east route between Italy’s Tyrrhenian and Adriatic coasts, crossing over the Apennine mountains which run down Italy’s spine.
The race has evolved somewhat in recent years. In the early part of the last decade it favoured Classics specialists such as Filippo Pozzato, Paolo Bettini and Oscar Freire, who respectively won the 2003-5 editions. More recently greater prominence has been given to the climbs to produce a pleasing mix of flat, mountainous and time trial stages which is typically won by a top Grand Tour GC rider. The most recent winners are:
2007: Andreas Kloden (Astana)
2008: Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
2009: Michele Scarponi (Diquigiovanni-Androni)
2010: Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone)
2011: Cadel Evans (BMC)
Unsurprisingly, Italian riders have often dominated the race, with 22 out of 46 previous editions being won by a ‘home’ rider. However, Belgian Roger de Vlaeminck holds the record of six wins, claimed in consecutive years between 1972 and 1977.
Since Tony Rominger won back-to-back in 1989 and 1990, the race has seen 21 different champions in 21 years. 2011 winner Cadel Evans was the first non-European rider to take overall victory.
Tirreno-Adriatico often provides a springboard for riders to perform well at the Grand Tours. 2009 winner Scarponi went on to win two stages at that year’s Giro, while two years ago Garzelli added a mountain stage win to his overall victory here. As for last year, I seem to recall that Evans fellow did quite well in the month of July …
What happened last year?
Cadel Evans produced a battling victory here last year, holding off Robert Gesink and Michele Scarponi as less than a minute separated the final top ten. Having taken over the blue maglia azzurra leader’s jersey on stage five, he added a stage win on the penultimate day before doing just enough in the closing time trial to secure overall victory.
Rabobank set the pace on the opening 16.8km team time trial to put Lars Boom into the lead. The next two days were dominated by the sprinters, with Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) and J J Haedo (Saxo Bank-Sungard) leading home the pack.
Stages four and five saw the roads becoming altogether more vertical, with a pair of gruelling 240km days. The former stage featured a vicious 2km final climb in Chieti. Scarponi attacked at the bottom and maintained his lead to the end ahead of Lampre teammate Damiano Cunego and Evans. At Castelraimondo the next day, a two-man breakaway was swallowed up within sight of the line, gifting the win to Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). With race leader Gesink missing a key split in the pack, Evans took the overall lead by two seconds.
The penultimate stage finished with three circuits of Macerata, each ending with a punishing ascent topping out at 18%. Evans held firm in the face of repeated attacks to bridge the gap and sprint clear to win. A good-but-not-great performance in the closing time trial was enough to secure overall victory over Gesink by 11 seconds.
1. Cadel Evans (BMC) 27:37:37
2. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +0:11
3. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +0:15
4. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:24
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:30
6. Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) +0:39
7. Tiago Machado (RadioShack) +0:42
8. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) +0:50
9. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:57
10.Thomas Lofkvist (Sky) +0:58
This year’s race
As in 2011, this year’s parcours starts and ends with a pair of time trials. The race opens with a 16.9km team event starting in the coastal town of San Vincenzo (a place I know well, having holidayed there last year) and a 9.3km individual effort around San Benedetto del Tronto, which was also the concluding stage last year.
Stages two and three are built for the sprinters. The first of these is a lengthy 230km trek to Indicatore, with a couple of short but difficult climbs in the closing kilometres which could disrupt the sprint trains and provide a platform for a surprise attack. The following day’s stage to Terni is shorter and more straightforward, with a 30km downhill-then-flat run to the finish.
Stages four and five will have the biggest impact on the general classification as the race ventures into the mountains. The former weighs in at a marathon 252km and features the climb to the ski resort at the 1,310m Passo Lanciano (20.8km at 4.7%) before delivering a sting in the tail – the same 2km closing climb in Chieti where Scarponi won last year.
The queen stage follows the next day with the 1,227m Piano Roseto preceding the climb to the 1,450m summit finish on Prati di Tivo, a 14.5km ascent averaging 7%.
The penultimate stage is a rolling affair which features six 16.2km laps around Offida and could have some bearing on the GC. The undulating profile, coming straight after the race’s big summit finish, will have breakaway artists licking their lips as the overall contenders rest their legs before the final day’s potentially decisive individual time trial.
Who to watch
This year’s race boasts six former winners on its start-list, including its three most recent champions. Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Oscar Freire (Katusha) are unlikely to feature prominently in the mix for the race lead, but Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan), fresh from his victory in Saturday’s Strade Bianche, will target the concluding individual time trial, having won on the same course last year.
Cadel Evans (BMC), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) will, however, all be serious contenders for overall victory. Evans again comes to Tirreno-Adriatico looking to build for July. 38-year old Garzelli will have a point to prove after his team did not receive a wild-card for the Giro, in which he is the defending King of the Mountains. And Scarponi arrives as the ‘winner’ of last year’s Giro following Alberto Contador’s suspension. Scarponi has been first, second and third in the last three years in this race, while Garzelli was second in 2009 in addition to his 2010 win.
Other leading GC contenders who will animate the race in the mountains include 2010 Vuelta winner Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Roman Kreuziger (Astana), OPQS’ Velits brothers Martin and Peter, Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank) and a typically punchy Euskaltel-Euskadi squad led by Gorka Verdugo.
The sprint field is extremely strong – certainly superior to that at Paris-Nice. On the early flat stages, a strong Sky team will look to propel world champion Mark Cavendish to victory. He will face stiff competition from Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), already the winner of six races in 2012, triple Vuelta stage winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), Matt Goss (GreenEDGE) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda).
And look out for both the Classics riders such as Philippe Gilbert and breakaway experts such as Vacansoleil-DCM’s Johnny Hoogerland on the rolling stage six, where there is every chance of an escape getting away and staying away.
Here at VeloVoices I’ll be keeping tabs on number three, BMC’s Alessandro Ballan. The Italian veteran is in good form, having finished fourth in Strade Bianche despite a late detour when he took the wrong turning. He has a chequered history at Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing third in 2006 but breaking his collarbone the following year. Watch out for him to get in the inevitable break on stage six, and possibly even try a surprise attack on one of the tricky hills near the end of the long second stage.
March 7th: Stage 1 – San Vincenzo to Donoratico, 16.9km team time trial
March 8th: Stage 2 – San Vincenzo to Indicatore (Arezzo), 230km
March 9th: Stage 3 – Indicatore (Arezzo) to Terni, 178km
March 10th: Stage 4 – Amelia to Chieti, 252km
March 11th: Stage 5 – Martinsicuro to Prati di Tivo, 196km
March 12th: Stage 6 – Offida to Offida, 181km
March 13th: Stage 7 – San Benedetto del Tronto, 9.3km individual time trial
Tirreno-Adriatico starts on Wednesday 7th March and concludes on Tuesday 11th. Daily highlights will be shown in the UK by Eurosport. For other channels check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website