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The Genius of Tirreno-Adriatico

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First, a disclaimer: I'm getting a little burnt out on trying to handicap spring stage races, where the stakes are middlin and the motivations are difficult to predict. Honestly, I have almost nothing interesting to say about Le Due Mari, except this: there's a subtle perfection to this year's Paris-Nice/Tirreno-Adriatico calendar. In fact, more than ever, the two races complement each other perfectly.

Paris-Nice has long been the place to go to work on your classics form: as compared to Tirreno-Adriatico, the weather is, um, more Belgian-like, and the roads tend to have a bit more incline. There are usually some sprints to contest, but the final GC tends to feature the all-rounders.

Le Due Mari, meanwhile, has offered sunnier weather and a chance to hone the sprinting skills, largely with Milan-San Remo in mind. Not that T-A hasn't had its lumpy roads in the past, but traditionally it's been pretty manageable, usually topping out in the 1000-meter range. More than enough preparation for the Poggio or Passo Turchino, and plenty of hours in the saddle to boot.

In recent years, Tirreno has featured some healthy climbs, and Paris-Nice has seen its share of sprints, giving riders a bit of a choice as to which one better fits this program. Not this year, as they're in complete yin-yang mode. Paris-Nice is pretty much over as a sprinters' affair as of day 3. In fact, the various cols and sections of Mont Ventoux tip it more in the direction of pure climbers than classics guys, though either way it's a workout. And the weather is pure Flanders. If you're gunning for early April, this is your race.

T-A, meanwhile, looks quite manageable. Stages 3 and 6 might see some late time gaps due to finishing inclines, but they're short and no great hindrance to the sprints that will evolve on stages 1, 2 and 7. And they won't decide the race; the 26km time trial on stage 5 will. So if you want sprints and a pretty hefty workout against the clock, all useful events for Milan-San Remo or the Giro d'Italia, Tirreno-Adriatico is for you.

From the startlist, the lineup of fastmen is impressive: Bettini, Boonen, Brard, Sella, Hondo, Cavendish, Ciolek, Guesdon, Haussler, Pozzato, Cooke, Richeze, Chicchi, Napolitano, Quinziato, Freire, Bertogliati, Petacchi, Loddo, Ignatiev, Zabel, McEwen, and probably a few more. But the lineup of chronomen is pretty awesome as well: Devolder, Valjavec, José Ivan Gutierrez, Karpets, Cancellara, Lövkvist, Hincapie, Savoldelli, Pellizotti, Langeveld, Larson, Zabriskie, etc.

Given that the latter group may well decide the outcome, I think you have to favor someone from this group. I'll go with Cancellara, Devolder and Zabriskie.

Oh, and for those of you scoring at home, here's your Tirreno-Adriatico Virtual DS Spreadsheet. Best links: La Gazzetta's Il Grande Ciclismo, and the video coverage on RAI (link needed!). We'll be live every day, though the open thread will be dueling with the Paris-Nice chatter. Enjoy!