Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) took time out of his rivals Chris Horner and Roman Kreuziger with a solo victory on Prati di Tivo and a sprint to second place on the penultimate stage, before a solid time trial today brought him overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico by 14 seconds. Joaquim Rodriguez held off Nibali to win at Offida, while Fabian Cancellara dominated the closing race against the clock for the second year running.
Stage 5: Martinsicuro to Prati di Tivo, 196km
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) won Tirreno-Adriatco’s queen stage with a solo attack less than 4km from the summit of Prati di Tivo to close to within 12 seconds of the overall lead with two stages remaining. However, RadioShack’s Chris Horner remained in possession of the maglia azzurra, albeit with his lead over Astana’s Roman Kreuziger reduced to just five seconds.
A three-man break comprising Kristof Goddaert (AG2R La Mondiale), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol) animated the early going, establishing a ten-minute lead. Goddaert fell away on the day’s penultimate climb, the gruelling 20km Piano Roseto, while the gap to the remaining two tumbled to 3½ minutes by its summit as Liquigas and Astana upped the pace in the peloton.
With the pack closing in on the lower slopes of Prati di Tivo, a punishing 14.5km snow-laden mountain with an average gradient of 7.1%, Martinez pulled away from Debusschere. However, with Omega Pharma-Quick Step joining the massed ranks of Astana and Liquigas leading the chase, the catch was completed just inside 11km as the orange-clad Martinez became the last escapee to succumb.
After a brief pause, the attacks started with around 8km to go. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) made an exploratory acceleration to test the waters, but it was Astana’s Paolo Tiralongo who tried the first concerted attack, establishing a 15-second cushion before four others attempted to jump across tha gap to him as the lead group stretched out in a long line down the slope. With the main contenders all keeping a watchful eye on each other, it was left to Horner to take responsibility for bringing them back up to the leaders to re-form an elite group of ten.
Tiralongo again attacked off to the front to try to split the group, but again Horner was equal to the task of dragging him back into the fold. Finally, with the leaders all together again and the tempo faltering for a moment, Nibali made his decisive move. Having started the day 34 seconds off the lead, Horner was happy to let him go and work to contain the gap. The Sicilian built an advantage of 26 seconds before Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) and Christophe Riblon (AG2R) decided to give chase. Only then did the maglia azzurra return to the front to drive the pace in the final 1.5km, with Colnago’s Domenico Pozzovivo and finally second-placed Roman Kreuziger also pulling hard towards the end.
Their late efforts were enough to keep Nibali’s winning advantage to 16 seconds (26 including the time bonus), while Kreuziger ensured he beat Horner across the line for second place to receive six rather than four bonus seconds.
Stage 6: Offida to Offida, 181km
The penultimate stage was a lumpy affair culminating in six 16.1km circuits around Offida. It looked suited to a successful breakaway, but ultimately the fate of the day’s seven-man escape was doomed as the teams of the overall contenders exerted an iron grip on the race.
The break had thinned out to just four riders by the time they approached the final 6km climb to the finish, and the peloton completed the catch by the 5km marker, setting the stage for attacks both by those battling for the GC and those merely seeking victory on the day. Wout Poels (Vacansoleil) set the ball rolling with an attack with 4.5km to go, only to be overhauled shortly after by Danilo Di Luca (Acqua & Sapone) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre). In turn, AG2R’s Christophe Riblon launched an attack of his own with 3km remaining, prompting Peter Sagan to lead the chase on behalf of his Liquigas team leader Vincenzo Nibali.
Colnago’s Domenico Pozzovivo bridged across to Riblon, but the pair were inexorably hauled in by the group of elite contenders at the flamme rouge, at which point Joaquim Rodriguez put in a decisive acceleration. Well down on GC, the group was happy to let him go before Sagan was again tasked with closing him down in the final few hundred metres. But Rodriguez had just enough left in the tank to hold them off as Nibali led the charge for second place, gaining six valuable bonus seconds to move himself just one second behind second-placed Roman Kreuziger, and six in arrears of leader Chris Horner.
Rodriguez was grateful the finish line came when it did:
200 metres more and they would’ve caught me. I played my one card; I only had one death blow available.
Stage 7: San Benedetto del Tronto, 9.3km individual time trial
For the second year in a row the race concluded with a 9.3km time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto. For the second year in a row the final day effectively comprised two races within a race: the battles for the stage win and for overall victory. And for the second year in a row Fabian Cancellara was conclusively the fastest man against the clock.
RadioShack teammate Daniele Bennati set a testing benchmark time of 10:48 on the essentially dead-straight out-and-back course, with the wind at the riders’ backs over the first half and in their faces on the homeward leg. Cancellara blitzed round in 10:36, three seconds slower than last year but still quickest overall by 12 seconds – and at a blistering average speed of 52.6kph. This gave RadioShack a one-two which would stand all the way to the end.
Behind them, defending champion Cadel Evans completed a quiet week by recording a modest 11:20 (49th-fastest). But the real excitement came towards the end. Two-time Australian time trial champion Cameron Meyer pipped GreenEDGE teammate Svein Tuft – who had impressed on stage two by single-handedly pulling the peloton for 200km – for third spot as both recorded 10:52. However, he failed by just eight seconds to dislodge Wout Poels from the top of the young rider classification.
The final three riders – Nibali, Kreuziger and Horner – set off in reverse order with just six seconds separating the trio. With all three on the road together, it soon became apparent that Nibali – the strongest time-trialist of the three – was showing the kind of form he needed to leapfrog the others. He was first to reach the finish, setting the ninth-fastest time of 10:56. Kreuziger was next, recording a mediocre 11:23, while Horner followed two minutes later in 11:16. Both were some way off the required pace, putting Nibali into the maglia azzurra with a winning margin of 14 seconds over Horner, with Kreuziger a further 12 seconds back.
Nibali also won the points competition ahead of teammate Peter Sagan. Colnago’s Stefano Pirazzi had already secured the mountains classification. And RadioShack at least had the consolation of taking away the team prize, in addition to Cancellara’s stage win and Horner’s overall second place.
Nibali was delighted to have snatched victory:
This is an important win. I’ve always dreamed about winning Tirreno-Adriatico. I’ve won stages but now I’ve won overall too, so I’m really happy.
And Horner was still pleased with his week’s work, despite slipping to second, in his first race back since recovering from an embolism:
I have no mixed feelings about this. It’s been a fantastic week. The team did a great [team time trial] to set me up to take the jersey and I defended it for a few days. Tactically I think we did a brilliant race. This is not a course that is ideal for me, but to stay on the podium is good for me.
At VeloVoices we were following BMC’s Alessandro Ballan during the race. The Italian spent the week looking after Cadel Evans. He put in a big shift to drive the peloton to the base of the concluding climb in Chieti on stage four, but otherwise had a relatively quiet week. He finished a respectable 38th in the final time trial – eight seconds quicker than his team leader – and ended up 68th overall.
Overall, Tirreno-Adriatico again produced balanced and close racing. The team time trial and two sprint stages provided a gentle warm-up for the three climbers’ stages, each of which produced exciting finishes and set up a dramatic finale today.
Vincenzo Nibali was a deserved winner, having convincingly outperformed his closest rivals in the climactic time trial after finishing first, second and third on the race’s three uphill stages. He received excellent support from his Liquigas team throughout, in particular Peter Sagan, who was his key lieutenant in the mountains.
It was also a good race for RadioShack: best team, a stage win for Cancellara and second overall for Chris Horner in his first race since crashing out of last year’s Tour de France and a winter spent on blood thinners.
New team GreenEDGE will also be pleased with their performance, having won the opening team time trial, put Matt Goss into the maglia azzurra for three days and placing third and fourth in the concluding time trial, with Cameron Meyer finishing 10th overall.
The next stop for many of the riders will be the first of this season’s five Monuments: Milan-San Remo on Saturday. With the Sky pair of Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen, Fabian Cancellara and Liquigas’ Nibali and Sagan all stage winners here, many of the front-runners look to be in fine form ahead of the Italian classic.
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) 29:38:08
2. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:14
3. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +0:26
4. Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:53
5. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) +1:00
6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:16
7. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +1:16
8. Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) +1:25
9. Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) +1:31
10. Cameron Meyer (GreenEDGE) +1:33