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The Tirreno TTT - Does it Matter?

Tirreno - Adriatico has traditionally started with a road stage, but in the past three editions it has followed the lead of the Giro d'Italia and eschewed this for a team time trial. The distances have been short - all, actually, between 16.8-16.9km long - and time gaps fairly small over an 18-20 minute effort. So what has the TTT added to the race? Does it have that much of an effect on the overall classification?

BMC came out of today's TTT better than most. Will it give Cadel Evans the cushion he needs to win the overall?
BMC came out of today's TTT better than most. Will it give Cadel Evans the cushion he needs to win the overall?
Fotoreporter Sirotti

Now that the first stage of Tirreno - Adriatico is in the books, things look remarkably subdued on the GC front. Cadel Evans, Christopher Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, and Alberto Contador are all within 13 seconds of each other on the overall classification. Joaquim Rodriguez and Bauke Mollema are a bit further back, but still only 28 seconds behind Cadel Evans and closer to other likely winners. But stage racing, especially over just a week, is decided by seconds. In 2011, the top ten riders after a week of racing were split by less than a minute, even with time bonuses for stage winners.

So, the question of whether the TTT actually matters in deciding the overall is an interesting one to pose. Follow along if you wish as I look at the data we have from the 2011 and 2012 editions of the race and how the TTT shaped overall outcomes.

2012, 16.9km

Position Stage 1 GC Final GC
1 Cameron Meyer Vincenzo Nibali
2 Chris Horner + 17"
Chris Horner + 14"
3 Roman Kreuziger + 30" Roman Kreuziger + 26"
4 Joaquim Rodriguez + 40" Rinaldo Nocentini + 53"
5 Christophe Riblon + 43" Johnny Hoogerland + 1'00"
6 Rinaldo Nocentini + 43" Joaquim Rodriguez + 1'16"
7 Michele Scarponi + 46" Michele Scarponi + 1'16"
8 Johnny Hoogerland + 51" Wout Poels + 1'25"
9 Wout Poels + 51" Christophe Riblon + 1'31"
10 Vincenzo Nibali + 55"

Cameron Meyer + 1'33"

In 2012, Vincenzo Nibali drew the short straw with his Liquigas Cannondale team finishing in 15th position, a whopping 55 seconds behind GreenEDGE. More importantly, he was left 38 seconds in arrears of Chris Horner and 25 back on Roman Kreuziger, two favorites for the final podium. But, wait! Nibali won, thanks in no small part to a stellar final time trial. But, when there were time gaps in the uphill finishes on Stages 4 and 5, Nibali was amongst the first group. In fact, he won Stage 5, picking up a few seconds in time bonuses he would not need to win the overall.

The remainder of the leaderboard is remarkably unchanged by the exclusion of the TTT time gaps. Rodriguez would have dropped in position slightly and Scarponi and Poels would have swapped places, but the only major beneficiary was Meyer, who would not have cracked the top ten without his cushion from Stage 1.

2011, 16.8km

Position Stage 1 GC Final GC
1 Robert Gesink Cadel Evans
2 Marco Pinotti + 10" Robert Gesink + 11"
3 Ivan Basso + 22" Michele Scarponi + 15"
4 Vincenzo Nibali + 22" Ivan Basso + 24"
5 Cadel Evans + 26" Vincenzo Nibali + 30"
6 Tiago Machado + 30" Marco Pinotti + 39"
7 Thomas Löfkvist + 33" Tiago Machado + 42"
8 Michele Scarponi + 37" Damiano Cunego + 50"
9 Damiano Cunego + 37" Philippe Gilbert + 57"
10 Philippe Gilbert + 51"

Thomas Löfkvist + 59"

2011 is a similar story to 2012 for the overall winner, Cadel Evans. He had a decent start to the race, conceding some time to his rivals for the final victory but overcoming it on the hilltop finishes and in the final time trial. Looking at those most helped by the TTT, we see Gesink's podium finish was due entirely to the advantage his Rabobank team garnered in the first stage. Had the TTT not been held, Gesink would have finished fourth. Marco Pinotti also would have plummeted down several spots in the overall without a strong team on the first stage.

So, what do we make of it?

In neither year has the overall winner come out of the team time trial with a time gap over the remainder of the podium contenders. In essence, the TTT has only served to mute the superiority of the overall winner in stages requiring solo efforts on either a climb or time trial bike. But, gaps to particular riders can keep them out of the hunt for the overall or podium. Joaquim Rodriguez, for example, has traditionally benefited from the team time trial but now sits 15 seconds behind Contador, whom he will find hard to dislodge on the climbs and who will certainly crush him in the individual time trial. Tony Martin, on the other hand, looks to be in the position Robert Gesink was in 2011 - normally he would be hard pressed to podium on a race as renown for its punchy climbs, but with 29 seconds on Contador and an individual time trial to finish the race, he can hope - at least a little - of being in contention for the win going into the last stage.

In my eyes, this is a good thing Rodriguez will have to be more aggressive than usual and Tony Martin is perhaps more motivated to go deep on the climbs. Instead of closing down the race, this year's time trial has kept it more open, as it has historically done.