Tomorrow sees the start of the 49th edition of the Italian UCI WorldTour race, Tirreno-Adriatico. It’s one that has a field packed with riders targeting the general classification in this year’s Grand Tours – as well as sprinters hoping for what could be a last crack at Milan-San Remo a week on Sunday.
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Astana, riding Paris-Nice, is missing, as is the man who finished runner-up to him 12 months ago, Team Sky’s Chris Froome, who is skipping the race due to a back injury.
Richie Porte, who made a last-minute switch from seeking to retain his Paris-Nice title, will instead ride the Italian race, which should make for better preparation for May’s Giro d’Italia where he is aiming to win the GC.
“The race route is much more suited to GC guys than Paris-Nice this year, and there are more of the big GC riders here this year,” he said. “It’s horses for courses, and I’m glad to be here.”
He’ll be lining up alongside Sir Bradley Wiggins, and it’s unclear which of them will be leading Sky’s campaign at Tirreno, where they are up against the likes of former Tour de France champions Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff and BMC Racing’s Cadel Evans, a past winner of this race.
“Compared with last year, there aren’t as many climbs, but they are a bit longer,” said Evans. “I don’t know the climbs, but the steep climb at Guardiagrele comes at the end of a long stage, so it’ll be hard. And when you see the field we have here, there are plenty of top climbers here.”
While some riders will be using the race to build form for the Giro or the Tour, others have a more immediate target in mind – the season’s first Monument, Milan-San Remo, on Sunday 23 March.
Among those are two riders who have been there in the finale in the past two years but have missed out on each occasion – Trek Factory Racing’s Fabian Cancellara, and Cannondale’s Peter Sagan.
“I’m only thinking about Tirreno-Adriatico now: I’ll worry about Milano-San Remo later,” said Cancellara, who won the latter race in 2008 and was second two years ago and third last year.
“I’ll use this race to work for our leaders Kiserlowski and Arrendondo who are young. Next week it’s my birthday. I hope to take something home at the end of this week in Italy: not just wine, but perhaps something with bubbles,” he added, referring to the magnum of Prosecco stage winners receive on the podium.
Sagan, second to Gerald Ciolek at Milan-San Remo last year, said: “It’s the third time I’ve done Tirreno-Adriatico. I like the race. The important period of my season starts at this race, and then at Milano-San Remo.
“I’ll try and get a result, and win a point or two, but Tirreno is also good for my preparation… like every year.”
British champion Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step will be looking to hone his form ahead of what could well be his last chance to triumph at Milan-San Remo, with an amended, sprinter-friendly route figuring this year after the planned climb of the Pompeiana was ruled impassable.
The 2009 Milan-San Remo winner said: “I’ve ridden Tirreno-Adriatico every year since 2008. I like it here. I have a place in Tuscany and in the last years, the race has started here.
“I know the roads, It’s a nice race. The style of racing in Italy is different from elsewhere. The classics riders on all the teams always want to come here, so we always have strong teams here.”
Wednesday March 12
Donoratico to San Vincenzo, 18.5km TTT
Thursday March 13
San Vincenzo to Cascina, 166km
Friday March 14
Cascina to Arezzo, 210km
Saturday March 15,
Indicatore (Arezzo) to Cittareale (Selva Rotonda), 244km
Sunday March 16
Amatrice to Guardiagrele, 192 km
Monday March 17
Bucchianico to Porto Sant’Elpidio, 189 km
Tuesday March 18
San Benedetto del Tronto, 9.1km ITT
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.