Many were looking forward to the duel between the top four from last year’s Tour de France; Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez and Alberto Contador. Unfortunately, Purito won’t take part in the Tirreno-Adriatico this year while Chris Froome had to withdraw from the start list due to back pains. Instead, Richie Porte is now leading Team Sky against the Spanish speaking army.

2013 Tirreno-Adriatico podium: Christopher Froome (Sky) - Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alberto Contador Velasco (Saxobank - Tinkoff)

2013 Tirreno-Adriatico podium: Christopher Froome (Sky) – Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alberto Contador Velasco (Saxobank – Tinkoff)

The route

This year’s route is very similar to last year’s edition. The race starts with a team time trial and continues with a stage for the sprinters. Stage 3 ends with an uphill sprint while stage 4, like last year, is the big mountain stage of the race. The 14 km towards the top of Selva Rotonda are most likely where the GC will be settled. However, the following stage ends with an insanely steep finish. The final 1400 meters include a part of 600 meters with an average (!) gradient of 22 %. There are 10, 6 and 4 bonus seconds on the line each day (except for the time trials). This means that explosive riders will be able to take quite some time on their rivals on stage 5, keeping the bonus seconds in mind. Stage 6 is another one for the sprinters. The GC riders will be able to take a breather and recharge their batteries before the final time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto. It’s exactly the same route for the time trial as last year, which means we shouldn’t see time gaps of more than 15-25 seconds between the overall contenders.

TA2014_gen_alt_big

The favorites

The way I see it, there are four top favorites for this race. The first one is Alberto Contador. Compared to last year, Contador has started out his season very strong. He seems a lot more relaxed now and team boss Oleg Tinkov confirms this by saying that he has never seen his Spanish star as happy as he is now. In the past, Alberto Contador won almost all the stage races he participated in. This changed last year. A new race schedule, with sole focus on the Tour de France, proved not to be the right idea, and now, Contador is once again aiming to win all the races he starts. He finished second overall in Volta al Algarve where he won the only mountain top finish of the race and is now aiming big at Tirreno-Adriatico. Tinkoff-Saxo is bringing a very strong team to support Alberto Contador in the mountains as well as in the team time trial.

Next up, among the big favorites, is Nairo Quintana. The Colombian super climber won Tour San Luis overall after distancing the whole peloton on stage 4. Movistar sends a highly capable team to Tirreno-Adriatico hoping to give Quintana the best possible start in the team time trial. Movistar is my personal outsider for the opening stage. A good result here means that Quintana doesn’t have to be the one starting the attacks on stage 4. He still needs to attack, but if he’s within 5-10 seconds of the other favorites, Quintana will have plenty of time to attack at the end, on the steep gradients, and distance his rivals. However, I would say that Nairo Quintana needs a gap of at least 20 seconds before taking on the final time trial. More time is probably needed if Michal Kwiatkowski is close in the GC.

Tour de France 2013 stage-18

The Pole has been outstanding this season, winning Volta al Algarve overall and dropping Peter Sagan to win Strade Bianche last Saturday. Kwiatkowski has worked hard to improve his climbing and time trial abilities ahead of this season. Meaning that if the other favorites don’t manage to drop him on stage 4 or distance him enough on the wall-finish on stage 5, he might win this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico thanks to his strong time trial skills. Don’t forget he distanced Alberto Contador with 20 seconds (on a 13.6 km course) in Portugal less than a month ago. Last year’s Giro d’Italia runner up Rigoberto Uran is also in the race and together with Kwiatkowski, Omega Pharma Quickstep has a dangerous duo for the general classification. With Tony Martin, OPQS is also among the top favorites for the team time trial.

Michal Kwiatkowski shown crossing the finishline at Strade-Bianche last weekend.

Michal Kwiatkowski shown crossing the finishline at Strade-Bianche last weekend.

The last one of my four top favorites is Richie Porte. Tirreno-Adriatico suits him a lot better than Paris-Nice this year and it’s only natural that he changed race schedule after Froome pulled out. The time trials definitely favor Porte who really needs a stage race win soon. His big goal this season is Giro d’Italia but so far he hasn’t looked too good. He won on Willunga Hill in Tour Down Under but didn’t make the overall podium. In Ruta del Sol, Team Sky managed to set him up perfectly on the climbs, but Porte didn’t have the legs to finish it off. Since then he has been training hard and it will be interesting to see what kind of legs Richie Porte brings to Tirreno-Adriatico. Team Sky is amongst the top favorites for the opening team time trial and Porte himself is amongst the contenders for the final time trial as well. Personally, I can’t see Porte following the most explosive riders on the steep finish on stage 5 and this means that he probably needs to take time on his rivals on stage 4. Bradley Wiggins is here to help Richie Porte win this race. It didn’t work out in Ruta del Sol last month, but if Porte wants to be considered as a top favorite for Giro d’Italia, he needs to prove it now.

richiePorte

The outsiders

On the level just below the four riders mentioned above, we’ll find a lot of strong guys for this race. The Belkin duo Bauke Mollema and Robert Gesink are probably the best candidates for an upset. They both aim big at this race and both seem to be in great shape at the moment. Former overall winner of the race, Cadel Evans is also one who should never be underestimated. He dropped Porte on the steep gradients on Corkscrew Road in Tour Down Under and showed his good shape in Strade Bianche last Saturday, taking 7th place. However, Cadel Evans’ time trial skills are not what they used to be, and personally, I can’t see him drop riders like Contador and Quintana on the climbs. I doubt Evans will be able to do better than Top5 in this race.

Except for Rui Costa, who is currently riding Paris-Nice, Lampre-Merida sends their A-team to Tirreno-Adriatico. Chris Horner, Diego Ulissi and Damiano Cunego will be leading the team while Sacha Modolo will get a chance to shine in the sprints. More on Modolo later. Horner is usually strong at this time of the year and he always delivers in this race. It will be interesting to see if he still has some of that shape from last year’s Vuelta. Ulissi and Cunego are more one-day specialists. Cunego did very well in Strade Bianche last Saturday, taking 4th place and seems to be in great shape right now. Ulissi was my joker for the GC in Tour Down Under in January. He finished 3rd overall in Australia, but I don’t think he will be able to repeat that performance here. Lampre will lose quite some time in the opening team time trial and Ulissi will lose additional time to the favorites in the final time trial as well. However, he might win a stage. Both stage 3 and 5 suit Ulissi and Cunego perfectly.

My personal outsider for a good result overall is Domenico Pozzovivo. I will probably be mentioning Pozzovivo a lot this season as I have big expectations for him in 2014. He had a great season – probably his best ever – last year, finishing 10th overall in Giro d’Italia and 6th overall in Vuelta España. This year, the Giro d’Italia is once again his big goal and personally, I think he will do very well. Pozzovivo is a born climber, which his weight of only 53 kg indicates perfectly. On his good days, he can take on the best riders in the world uphill, and last year he surprised everybody when he finished 3rd in the long time trial in Vuelta España, surpassed only by Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin. Ag2r will probably lose a lot of time in the TTT which could easily ruin Pozzovivo’s chances of an overall win. However, this might also mean that he won’t be the first rider the favorite will track down if he attacks on stage 4. In Roma Maxima, Domenico Pozzovivo distanced everybody on the final steep climb. Only Valverde could close the gap afterwards. Pozzovivo’s team mate Jean-Christophe Peraud is also an interesting name for the general classification. Peraud recently won Tour Med overall and is obviously in great shape, too. I would be surprised not to see at least one of the two Ag2r riders in Top10 when the race is over.

Astana brings a lot of strong riders for this race. Michele Scarponi, Tanel Kangert, and Janez Brajkovic all have what it takes to get a good result in this race. On home soil, Scarponi is most likely the designated team leader but Kangert should not be underestimated. The Estonian climber was one of the revelations of last year’s season and it’s only natural to expect big things from him in 2014. Last month he finished 5th overall in Ruta del Sol and thanks to his strong time trial skills, he might repeat that performance in Tirreno-Adriatico. It won’t be easy but, according to Kangert, he’s a lot stronger right now compared to last year at this point. Look out for the Estonian when the race hits the mountains.

Of other strong outsiders for the general classification, look to Dani Moreno, Dan Martin, Andrew Talansky, Jurgen van den Broeck, Roman Kreuziger, Stefano Pirazzi, Robert Kiserlovski, Thomas Löfkvist, Tiago Machado, Andrey Amador and Alexandre Geniez. Also, don’t forget Ivan Basso and Thibaut Pinot are in the race too. However, Pinot is most likely only using Tirreno-Adriatico as training for Volta a Catalunya later this month.

The sprinters

This year’s Tirreno-Adriatico includes two stages for the sprinters and, looking at the line up, we can expect some furious fights on stage 2 and 6. All the top sprinters in the world – meaning Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan, Arnaud Démare and Sacha Modolo – are in the race. Greipel has been outstanding in 2014 winning six races, while Cavendish has been struggling a bit more, only bagging one win so far this season. Cavendish will be able to count on Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Renshaw in the sprints. On paper, probably the best leadout in the world.

Matt Goss is racing Paris-Nice this week, but his last win was on stage 2 of Tirreno - Adriatico last year (2013)

Matt Goss is racing Paris-Nice this week, but his last win was on stage 2 of Tirreno – Adriatico last year (2013)

Kittel couldn’t make it work in Tour Down Under but took revenge in Dubai Tour, winning all three regular stages. It will be interesting to see if Giant-Shimano can get it right this time. Personally, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Sacha Modolo can do against these guys. He has taken a step – or two – up the ladder after joining Lampre-Merida, winning four races this year. So far, he hasn’t been up against Greipel and Kittel this season but he has already beaten Cavendish, Sagan and Démare. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sacha Modolo continued his strong start to the season and won a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico.

The six mentioned riders above are clearly the favorites for the sprint stages. However, don’t underestimate the likes of Italian riders such as Davide Appollonio, Daniele Bennati, Matteo Pelucchi and the Bardiani-CSF trio Filippo Fortin, Nicolo Ruffoni and Enrico Battaglin. Sam Bennett is also here, fresh off an impressive victory in Clásica de Almería earlier this month.

Follow the race online

The official Twitter hashtag for Tirreno-Adriatico 2014 is #Tirreno. You can follow the action from inside the race at the official account @TirrenAdriatico and visit the official website here

Startlist

See the 2014 startlist here.

Previous Winners

2013 | NIBALI Vincenzo
2012 | NIBALI Vincenzo
2011 | EVANS Cadel
2010 | GARZELLI Stefano
2009 | SCARPONI Michele
2008 | CANCELLARA Fabian
2007 | KLöDEN Andréas
2006 | DEKKER Thomas
2005 | FREIRE Oscar
2004 | BETTINI Paolo