With perhaps the most star-studded list of participants we’ve seen this year, the Tirreno-Adriatico stage racebegins tomorrow in Livonro, Italian with 148 Tuscan kilometers. Tirreno’s become the preferred build-up race for sprinters and classic stars, with several of the most recent winners of Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix having used Italy’s “race between two seas” to race themselves into top shape.
This year’s route offers few real difficulties—there are no true summit finishes, and the toughest days feature little more than several successive hills well before the finish line. Therefore, aside from the weather—it’s predicted to be a cold and rainy week—there is little reason to expect anything more than large and small group sprints.
Of the true field sprinters, Tirreno offers our first chance to see Mark Cavendish, Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar, Alessandro Petacchi, Daniele Bennati, Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire, and Robbie McEwen compete head-to-head. They arrive with varying levels of fitness, but it’s safe to say that on any given day we’ll see at least a handful of them testing their legs in advance of next Saturday’s Milan-San Remo. Aside from these men, several second-tier sprinters—many of whom are enjoying successful seasons—make the trip as well. Look for the likes of Robert Hunter, Yauheni Hutarovich, and Luca Paolini to try and surprise the big boys.
Along with Hushovd and Boonen, several men hoping for April success in Belgium and France are taking the line as well. In fact, we might as well cut-and-paste this list into our race previews for the next few weeks, as these are the names we’ll get used to seeing from the E3 Prijs to Roubaix including George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan, Marcus Burghardt, Karsten Kroon, Manuel Quinziato, Leif Hoste, Greg Van Avermaet, Stijn Devolder, Nick Nuyens, Edvald Boassen Hagen, Juan Antonio Flecha, Filippo Pozzato, Fabian Cancellara, and Stuart O’Grady. These riders will certainly be seen mixing it up here and there in breakaways and bunch sprints—regardless, their real goals are yet to come.
But Tierreno’s not only about sprinters and hard men, as several favorites for the Ardennes classics and Grand Tours are heading to Italy, perhaps to avoid what would have been a head-to-head conflict with Contador and Valverde in Paris-Nice. Alexandre Vinokourov, Cadel Evans, Vincenzo Nibali, Franco Pellizotti, Robert Gesink, Michael Rogers, Kim Kirchen, and Andy Schleck top this list. While few if any will be racing for the overall title, look for several to try and gauge their fitness during some of the race’s more difficult days, especially those toward the mid-point of the event.
And let’s not forget the Italians hoping to score a stage or two in front of their home crowds, men like Giovanni Visconti, Stefano Garzelli, and last year’s winner Michele Scarponi come to mind. Here’s where you might find an overall favorite or two, as they’re fast enough to finish near the front in a sprint, while aggressive and lithe enough to perhaps steal time on hillier days. Scarponi won the race last year; he’ll be extra-motivated to defend to his title.
Overall, this year’s race is certain to be a treat—especially if the stars decide to flex their muscles. One can only hope at least a few of them engage in their own version of “King of the Hill”—if they do; we’re in for a treat.
In particular, I’ll be watching a few things closely:
1. Is Mark Cavendish over his dental issues? Tirreno ends the Tuesday before the defense of his Milan-San Remo title—will he have raced himself into shape by the end of Tirreno?
2. BMC claims it will be racing aggressively in Tirreno. I’ll want to see them attacking, with Ballan, Hincapie, and Burghardt demonstrating some speed as we inch closer and closer to the cobbled classics.
3. What roll will the weather play? The forecast right now is for wet and near-freezing conditions. Look for crashes and colds to claim at least 2 or 3 riders by the time we hit the line in Milan next Saturday.
4. Stijn Devolder’s lack of form was a bit too obvious for comfort during Belgium’s opening weekend. Not that Tom Boonen cares, but will Tirreno help Devolder rise to the occasion once the action returns north?
5. Can Tyler Farrar win a stage against such tough competition? We know he can win bunch sprints, but I’d like to see him take a stage on a day with a more difficult profile, perhaps beating the likes of Hushovd, Freire, and Pozzato. If he can survive a tough day to take a win, he’ll be one of my top favorites for MSR in 10-days time.
That’s it! It’s time sit back, relax, and enjoy what’s certain to be one of the most entertaining races of the year. Isn’t it hard to believe we’re almost to Milan-San Remo?
Share your thoughts and comments below. What are looking for in this year’s edition?