5 Riders to Watch: Tirreno – Adriatico

Ooof…what a poster (from the 2015 edition). Paris-Nice is just starting but we are already looking ahead to the next stage race! Tirreno-Adriatico is one of a small handful of Italian races not having an anniversary edition this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s spectacular. A race for the climbers, this week provides everything from TTs to 23% incline finishes to downhill sprints. With all the big names who aren’t going to Paris-Nice instead coming here, it is also another stacked race with plenty of big contenders. Let’s see how the course shapes up.

The Course

Stage 1: Lido di Camaiore > Lido di Camaiore (22.7km)

Everything about this team time trial is flat and straight. Like, seriously, it’s straight up a road 8km, then a right turn and 3 left turns to make it back onto the same road and come back the other way. No uber technical corners other than the corner at Forte Dei Marmi for the time check. Really will just be a power time trial, along a coastline with some nice scenery if it wasn’t for all the hotels.

Pick for the Stage: BMC, Rohan Dennis to cross first.

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Couldn’t make a flatter pancake if they tried. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 2: Camaiore > Pomarance (229km)

This stage makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s the perfect puncheur stage. The first 120 kilometers is pretty dead flat, but it’s all just preparation for the final 100km which just looks like high action and high drama. There are 3 KoM points on the day, Serrazzano (9.1km at 2.8%) at 132.8km, Volterra (9.9km at 4.5%) at 176.6km and Montecatini Val Di Cecina (3.4km at 6% on Strava) at 206.6km. But the climbs don’t end there, with the finish into Pomarance being uphill, and quite steep. 8km out from the finish there is a 16% kicker for 500m, while the last last 2km averages 4.7% and the last 500m is at 6.3%. These climbs may seem long, but there are flat sections and steep sections all the way up and they’re hardly gradual climbs. I see this stage panning out by the peloton letting a non-threatening break get the win while big names try to take a bit of time before heading to Terminillo or will just let a break go for it.

Pick for the Stage: Sebastien Reichenbach

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The last 100km of this stage will be a must watch. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 3: Monterotondo Marittimo > Montalto di Castro (204km)

The first real sprinters stage of the day, the riders will still have to tackle some undulating terrain before the finish in Montalto di Castro. The stage descends out of Monterotondo Marittimo and is pretty easy (relatively) riding until the Scansano climb which is apparently 20km long. It’s quite a gradual climb for the whole 20km – at 2.6% – but there are some pitches of 8 to 10% spaced across the climb. I’m quite intrigued by the sprint point at 129.9km in Catabbio at the top of quite a steep climb after the first sprint point 9.8km earlier – although the points will more than likely be taken by the break the thought of having the sprint point at the top of the climb instead of a KoM is an interesting concept. After that sprint point though, it’s undulating until the last 10km for the descent into Montalto di Castro. There is a roundabout 150m out from the finish which could probably be the launchpad for most riders after the slight incline just before the finish. The sprinters will want to avoid getting boxed in at the roundabout, it looks like the place where the stage will be won and lost.

Pick for the Stage: Peter Sagan

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Sprinters will be relieved with a stage that favours them. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 4: Montalto di Castro > Terminillo (187km)

The Queen stage of the race, the Terminillo stage features some pretty steep and brutal climbs before the riders eventually have to crest the monster in the snow. The La Colonnetta (9.3km at 4.8%) climb early on in the stage should limber up those legs for the start, while the climbs after the Terni sprint point at 126.3km (7.3km at 3.4%) and in Castelfranco (5.4km at 4.3km) just before the Terminillo should just make sure the lactic acid builds up before the pièce de résistance. The Terminillo climb is 16.1km long with an average gradient of 7.3km. At this time of year, the riders might prefer to ski down it than cycle it, but they get paid to do this. The first section of the climb is the hardest, with the first 6 kilometers averaging 8.4% with pitches of 12%. There is a slight ‘lull’ of 3.5% in the middle of the climb, before it ramps up for the summit. With a 10% kicker 1.5km out just after a corner, the twisty climb finishes at 250m to go before a straight but still not flat finish. Barring a terrible time trial performance, whoever wins this stage should win the race.

Pick for the Stage: Nairo Quintana

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It’s not just a mountain top finish, but also a 130km slog beforehand. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 5: Rieti > Fermo (210km)

More punchy finishes! With this stage being placed after the mountain top monstrosity of Terminillo, we will definitely see some attacks from some GC riders unsatisified with their performance the day before to improve their standings. The stage is up and down the whole time straight from kilometer zero. Climb into Amatrice, descend into Ascoli Piceno, climb up the Capo di Monte, more descending, more climbing, and then we hit Fermo for – you guessed it – more climbing. There are 3 KoMs on the stage – Capo di Monte (6.6km at 4.8%), Capodarco (2.6km at 4%) and finally, the final Fermo climb. In the last 55km of the stage, there are 6 different ‘hills’ on the way, and it culminates with the steepest and hardest of them all. The first kilometer of the Fermo climb of 3.4km is at an average of 14.3%. 14 point 3. You read that right. And it maxes out at 22%+! After this pitch, it flattens out for 1.5km with an average gradient of 2% before the last kilometer averages 6.5%. The finish lies on a 10% gradient after a sharp right turn, so this stage could go all the way to the line for a break. As for GC riders who want to gain time, an attack on the 2nd last lump 10km away from the finish line might stick if they can keep the tempo up over the final few steep pitches.

Pick for the Stage: Primoz Roglic

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Polar opposites to the time trial. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 6: Ascoli Piceno > Civitanova Marche (159km)

The chaos of the 5 days previous is almost over. The sprinters will be rejoicing in the fact this stage resembles something flat and contestable in a bunch sprint. The riders climb out of Ascoli Piceno for the start of the race until Galleria “Croce di Casale” where the stage undulates for 35km before heading down to the base for the first and only KoM in Macerata (6.6km at 2.6%) – where, fun fact, I might be doing university exchange in a couple of years time! Anyways, the rest of the stage is more undulating hills until the 127km mark when it turns pancake flat. Minus a little lump at Civitanova Alta (1.9km at 4.7%), the finish into Civitanova Marche is perfect for the sprinters. A hairpin turn with 200m to go resembles more of a hotdog crit finish, and positioning into the final corner will be crucial to see who takes the win.

Pick for the Stage: Caleb Ewan

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Sprinters relief once again. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 7: San Benedetto del Tronto > San Benedetto del Tronto (10.1km)

Tirrento-Adriatico, the home of time trials up and down coastlines. Almost a mirror of the first team time trial, this individual time trial is straight up and down the road following the coast of San Benedetto del Tronto. There is a hairpin turn halfway down the court just after the time check at Piazza Salvo d’Acquisto, with the most climbing action over the whole stage being 14 speed bumps in 2km. Unless there is a crash or mechanical on this stage, the TT specialists should be trying for the stage win while the race leader will be trying to just save his jersey for just 15 minutes longer.

Pick for the Stage: Tom Dumoulin

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Is this flatter than the first time trial? You decide! Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

I actually prefer the parcours to this race more than Paris-Nice, especially this year’s edition. Hopefully the race isn’t cut down due to snow like last year…here are the riders that should excel if the weather stays nice. I pray.

The Bookies Favourite: Nairo Quintana

I have mixed emotions recently about Nairo. The only guy who can really go toe-to-toe with Froome in a Grand Tour, but can seemingly think not chasing down an attack on Jebel Hafeet is a great idea, costing him the Abu Dhabi GC win. The 27 year old Colombian is an amazing climber and is starting to improve his time trialling as well – as much as you can for a 60kg climber anyway. A win at Valenciana after blasting away the rest of the field by 40 seconds on the Llucena Queen stage just shows he is totally on form when his head is in the right place. I don’t think anyone will be able to hold his wheel up Terminillo, unless it rolls off his bike and a spectator picks it up.

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Quintana experienced success in this race the last time he raced here in 2015. Source: Cortesia

The Hometown Hero: Fabio Aru

With Nibali leaving Astana for Bahrain-Merida, Fabio Aru has been given the reigns as the GC leader at the Kazahkstani based team and will be entering Tirreno-Adriatico to try and get into better form before a big year in Italian cycling. A win will be Aru’s only goal when he finishes next Tuesday – and the race is definitely made for him. He has the TT skills over Quintana, but it’s just a question of whether or not he can stay with him up Terminillo. With the Giro coming up in May, he will want to get his year into second gear after two pretty good performances to start the year in Oman and Abu Dhabi, and The Race of the Two Seas is a great place to start.

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Fabio Aru will be hoping for a win on home soil before the Giro this year. Source: Tim de Waele.

The Youngster: Soren Kragh Andersen

Trying to pick an U23 rider in this race was tough. Only 18 riders are 23 and under, and only 10 of those aren’t already 23. None of these riders look like performing even half decently on GC because of their roles as either domestiques, sprinters or second-tier climbers. But, there is one rider I want to highlight for the energy he brings to the race and his unpredictability on attacking – Soren Kragh Andersen. Already having a stage win to his name in 2017 on a punchy Quriyat finish at the Tour of Oman, 3 punchy finishes in Tuscany this week should surely appeal to him. After Kelderman’s abandonment, Andersen might be given a bit more of a free role to try and get a stage for the team. This parcours really suits him and he would have to be a big chance of at least one win this week.

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Andersen is a real chance for a stage win in Italy this week. Source: Tour des Fjords.

The Unknown Entity: Egan Arley Bernal

One of the biggest Colombian emerging talents, the 20 year old pure climber is not well known outside of his home nation but signing with Androni in 2016 is just a stepping stone to what should be a huge career for the prodigy. 4th at l’Avenir last year on GC, 7th at Langkawi this year and 4th at the Tour de Slovenie in 2016, he is just starting to make an impact on the lower .HC and .1 races. Tirreno-Adriatico is his first WT race, and he comes in as the big GC hope for the Italian PCT team – talk about pressure. He isn’t a great time triallist – and Androni isn’t known for their time trialling skills – so the 2 TTs might damage his prospects for a top 10, but you will see him sticking it with the big boys up Terminillo, so keep an eye out for him this week and maybe even on the podium in France in a few years time.

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Bernal has really flung onto the scene after signing with Androni. World Tour contract in the works maybe? Source: Androni Giocattoli.

The Previous Winner: Greg van Avermaet

A single second separated Peter Sagan and Greg van Avermaet in a weather-affected Tirreno-Adriatico in 2016. No mountain stage meant it was a hard duel between the two heavy weight punchy riders in the pro peloton. If weather stays put this year, GVA has approximately 0 chance of retaining his trident in 2017 – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t in contention for a few stage wins! The multiple punchy stages is what a rider of GVA’s quality lives for, so a stage win is definitely not out of his reach. But he can say good bye to that trident for this year.

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Awkward Trident Kiss #2. Source: Tim de Waele.

And that’s a wrap for my Tirreno-Adriatico preview! Eurosport bought all the rights for Italian races so that is your best bet to catch each stage – or if you are a rebel like me you can use Tiz-Cycling. My pick for overall? Aru, with Nibali to take the 1-2 for Italy. For now, I’m out.

~The Cycling Raven