Tomorrow sees the 52nd edition of the Tirreno-Adriatico, a seven-stage race in Italy, sometimes known as ‘The Race of the Two Seas’. Drawing a high quality field, it has arguably become more prestigious than Paris-Nice which started at the weekend. We spoke to Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby who will be commentating on it to find out who the favourites are and why he’d rather be in Italy than France this week.
For those of you in need of a Geography lesson, the ‘Tirreno’ is that stretch of Mediterranean off the coast of Italy bounded by Corsica and Sardinia to the west and Sicily to the south. We begin with a team time trial in Lido di Camaiore before heading south and eventually east across the Italian peninsula to finish with an individual time trial on the Adriatic coast at Benedetto del Tronto.
In between we have a mix of sprint finishes, some uphill finisseur style stages as well as some serious climbing in the queen stage on Saturday which climaxes with the 16km Terminillo with gradients of up to 12%.
Carlton explains that, “The pre-eminence of Paris-Nice has been shaken over the past few years by clever course design of Tirreno organisers, RCS. These race days often match stages of the rapidly approaching Giro so this has drawn a generally higher quality field than Paris Nice over the past few years.” It’s also seen as ideal preparation for the imminent Monument, Milan-San Remo.
The Tirreno has probably the most recognisable trophy, other than the Paris-Roubaix pave stone: the “Sea Master Trophy” is a large gilded trident, ceremoniously raised from the Tyrrhenian sea by divers of the Italian coast guard and presented to the champion. In keeping with the nautical theme the leaders jersey is blue, the Maglia Azurra. Its recent previous winners include Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali.
Although Tirreno attracts some of the elite riders of the peloton, Carlton says that, “I've always found a lighter atmosphere, possibly due to less pressure from what is regarded as more of a national race than the weightier and historically grander affair in France… Added to the ‘better riders’ you can say better food, better weather (with some notable exceptions) and possibly better vibe.”
The out and out favourite this year has to be Nairo Quintana who won the 2015 edition with a storming ride up the Terminillo. Despite losing ground in the final time trial, he’d made up enough time on the preceding mountain stage to beat Bauke Mollema overall. The diminutive Colombian is setting himself up for a Giro/Tour double this year and he has a strong team to support him in Daniel Moreno, Jonathan Castroviejo and Daniele Bennati.
Carlton warns, “He will however abandon at the slightest sign of trouble. Watch for blizzards, snuffles and tumbles. This is a prep event for him. I've seen this happen before. If Quintana stays happy then job done, but expect strong showing from Pinot who's on a raiding mission and TJ Van Garderen who's out to save his status.”
Team Sky have had a torrid time of it in recent weeks – what can we expect from them? “G (Geraint Thomas) will push to save Sky’s pride.” With fellow Sky man, Kwiatkowski blasting his way to victory in last week’s Strade Bianche, they’ll be keen to continue doing their talking on the bike, rather than off it.
“But watch out for Rohan Dennis (BMC).” The Aussie was impressive at the Tour Down Under and, “will be savage coming off a good winter…For a bet though I'd pick Uran who's prepping for classics but always goes well here. 66-1 is a good each way bet but he's those odds for a reason. He’s unlikely to time trial well so a stage bet for one of the other days could be your option if he starts quietly.”
The season is well and truly up and running! To get your fix of Mediterranean coastlines and Tuscan countryside tune in for some Italian racing with Carlton Kirby on Eurosport which will be broadcasting live as well as showing highlights in the evening.