This week’s subjects: Strade Bianche, Brailsford’s breakaway cycling, Cancellara’s unluck and Bernie as an ungod.
This is how traditions are made
Strade Bianche has only been in existence for six years, yet it has the feel of an historic race. And it was just as exciting this year as last, with a surprise winner and a Velvet Samurai powering into second. This set of photographs gives a feel of the run-up to the race and the day itself.
The 48th edition of Tirreno-Adriatico – the ‘Race of the Two Seas’ – kicks off tomorrow (Wednesday), serving as RCS Sport’s pre-Giro taster. It provides a thorough examination of a team’s all-round ability, including a pleasing mix of sprint, mountain and Classics-style rolling stages, as well as both individual and team time trials.
What kind of race is it?
As its name suggests, this week-long race follows a west-to-east route between Italy’s Tyrrhenian and Adriatic coasts, via the Apennine mountains.
The race has evolved over the past decade to become more of a mini-Grand Tour. Classics specialists Filippo Pozzato, Paolo Bettini and Oscar Freire won between 2003 and 2005, but with tougher mountains stages being added to the parcours the race now favours top GC riders.
Italian riders have won nearly half (23) of the 47 previous editions, but Belgian Roger de Vlaeminck holds the record of six wins, claimed consecutively between 1972 and 1977. The race has also seen 22 different champions in the last 22 years. The most recent winners are:
2008: Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
2009: Michele Scarponi (Diquigiovanni-Androni)
2010: Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone)
2011: Cadel Evans (BMC)
2012: Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale)
What happened last year?
Last year’s race featured a nail-biting climax. Going into the final stage, Chris Horner (RadioShack), Roman Kreuziger (Astana) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) were separated by just six seconds, but it was the Shark of Messina who triumphed thanks to a strong ride in the concluding time trial to push Horner down to second.
Nibali looks forward to toasting giant marshmallows after winning last year (image by Panache)
Orica-GreenEDGE had put Matt Goss into the first blue jersey with victory in the team time trial, while Sky cleaned up on the following sprint stages courtesy of Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen. Peter Sagan showed the strength which would later sweep him to multiple victories in the Tours of California, Switzerland and France to win on the punchy climb in Chieti on stage four ahead of team leader Nibali, who at that stage lay 34 seconds off the lead.
But Nibali dominated thereafter. He clawed back 22 seconds by winning the queen stage on Prati di Tivo. And a second place behind Joaquim Rodriquez the following day netted him six bonus seconds, putting him in position to deliver the killing blow in the time trial.
You could be forgiven for thinking the 2013 parcours looks remarkably similar to last year’s – because it is. Book-ended again by a TTT starting in the holiday town of San Vincenzo and the short ITT in San Benedetto del Tronto, the race follows a near-identical route.
Stages two and three should both finish in sprints – the former once again a marathon slog (232km) to Indicatore – before the GC men take over with finishes at Prati di Tivo (14.5km, 7.1% average gradient) and Chieti (2.2km, 12.2%). The only real difference here is that this year these two stages are the other way around.
Stage 4 profile: the queen stage once again concludes on the summit of Prati di Tivo
Similarly, an undulating stage six will encourage breakaway artists but may end with GC contenders looking to sneak bonus seconds ahead of the concluding race against the clock. Small time gaps are likely on every stage from four onwards – bonus seconds for the top three finishers can be crucial – with the overall likely to remain in doubt until the very end.
Who to watch
There is an embarrassment of riches of talent competing this week, so this preview cannot possibly cover every potential stage or overall winner. But here goes anyway.
Starting with the team time trial, Orica-GreenEDGE will hope to repeat last year’s success on what is essentially the same course. They can expect strong challenges from an always competitive Garmin-Sharp and two teams powered by the men who have won the last seven World Championships time trials between them: the Fabian Cancellara-led RadioShack-Leopard, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step, who can boast reigning double rainbow jersey Tony Martin, 2008 champion Bert Grabsch and the equally formidable Michal Kwiatkowski. BMC also look strong, with Taylor Phinney providing considerable engine power. The concluding individual time trial is likely to come down to a straight fight between Cancellara, Martin and Phinney.
Will we see Cavendish in blue early on? (Image courtesy of OPQS)
OPQS will look to put Mark Cavendish in blue either in the TTT or on one of the two sprinters’ stages which follow it. But the Manx Missile will not have it all his own way by any means, as this race sees him face off against Andre Greipel and the Lotto Belisol train for the first time this season. Others who will look to sneak an upset include Matt Goss (GreenEDGE), John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), Tyler Farrar (Garmin) and the Italian trio of Francesco Chicchi (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) – fresh off a brace of wins at the Tour of Langkawi – Daniele Bennati (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida). And, of course, there’s the small matter of Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who has kicked off his season in exemplary form, although his best bet may be a repeat of last year’s win in Chieti. This is as strong a sprint field as we will see outside the Tour de France this year.
Froome will hope to swap the red of Oman for the blue of Tirreno-Adriatico (image courtesy of Sky)
The ranks of the GC contenders aren’t exactly thin either. Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali brings the number 1 dossard to Astana, where he will be supported in the mountains by Janez Brajkovic, Paolo Tiralongo and Fredrik Kessiakoff. Former winner Cadel Evans (BMC) will be hoping to use the race as a springboard in the same way he did in his Tour de France-winning season of 2011, while Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) will be looking to fill one of the few gaps on his palmares. The Spaniard will rekindle his Tour of Oman showdown with Nibali, Evans, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and the man who ultimately bested them all, Chris Froome (Sky). Throw in Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), 2009 winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Sky’s Colombian pairing of Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, and the climb to Prati di Tivo takes on a mouth-watering appeal. My tip? He won’t win the GC, but look for MTN-Qhubeka’s Sergio Pardilla, battle-hardened from two summit finishes at Langkawi (where he finished third overall), to chance his arm – and gain valuable sponsors’ air-time – in the break.
Finally, the penultimate stage holds potential for a Classics rider to make an attack stick. So look to Niki Terpstra (OPQS), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Greg van Avermaet (BMC), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) and Strade Bianche winner Moreno Moser (Cannondale) to slip away if the GC contenders are too busy man-marking one another.
March 6th: Stage 1 – San Vincenzo to Donoratico, 16.9km team time trial
March 7th: Stage 2 – San Vincenzo to Indicatore (Arezzo), 232km
March 8th: Stage 3 – Indicatore (Arezzo) to Narni Scalo, 190km
March 9th: Stage 4 – Narni to Prati di Tivo, 173km
March 10th: Stage 5 – Ortona to Chieti, 230km
March 11th: Stage 6 – Porto Sant’Elpidio to Porto Sant’Elpidio, 209km
March 12th: Stage 7 – San Benedetto del Tronto, 9.2km individual time trial
Tirreno-Adriatico starts on Wednesday 6th March and concludes on Tuesday 12th. Daily live coverage will be shown in the UK by Eurosport. For other options check cyclingfans.com.