By the time I finish writing this, riders will be either setting or punching their alarm clocks, depending on how close it is to the start of the 52nd Tirreno-Adriatico, the Race of the Two Seas. So I guess it’s a good time to scratch the surface of Cycling’s Other March Stage Race, now officially captioned “Kicking Paris-Nice’s Ass Since 2008, When Riders Discovered Our Superior Weather, Food and Hotels.”
Did you know! The race was originally called “Tre Giorni del Sud” (Three Days of the South), as a way of complaining about all the racing happening in northern Italy? Sectionalism is alive and well, if you are constantly on the lookout for it, but it doesn’t count for much at Tirreno-Adriatico these days. Mostly the race is about pointing out how Paris-Nice wastes everyone’s time by lingering in freezing areas of France before finally reaching the more sensible racing climes of the Riviera. So if the race has stuck to its southern roots, it’s because who the hell wants to race in Trentino right now?
The first edition departed from Rome and ended on the Abruzzese coast in Pescara, and a bunch of editions have taken in parts of Lazio (a/k/a Latium, the region around Rome, and yes I am reading about ancient Rome in my spare time), and even down to Naples. Pro tip: it’s sunny and in the mid-60s in Naples today. Paris? 40s and rain. Nowadays the race often starts at a fancy resort in Tuscany for $ome rea$on, and ends at San Benedetto del Tronto in Le Marche, skirting parts of Lazio and Abruzzo along the way. So it’s migrated north a bit, but my Dad says that the Marchigiani in his neighborhood had a reputation for being adventurous eaters, so I’m cool with the changes.
Southerners have never exactly taken over the event anyway. Stefano Colage and Roberto Petito were the first Mezzogiornese to win the overall, back in the mid-90s, and they’re mere Laziali, not deep southerners like Vincenzo Nibali, who finally broke through with a pair of victories in 2012-13. Nairo Quintana is from South America, so he should fit in thematically, as he shoots for his own second win. But Northerners have definitely had their way with the race. No, not northern Italians, I mean real northerners, like North Sea types. Roger De Vlaeminck won six consecutive editions starting in 1972 — a pretty unbreakable record considering how uninterested riders nowadays would become after, say, three or four wins in what counts mostly as a spring tuneup. Also, the course has varied from sprinter-friendly to mountain-mad, to attempted mountain mad but with snow turning it back into a sprinter’s race at the last second. So I doubt anyone would be in a position to challenge Mr. Tirreno-Adriatico’s record of consistent, if puzzling, excellence here.
Did you know! The gloriously elegant Trident of Neptune trophy presented to the winner on general classification is officially known as the Sea Master Trophy? Pretty boring, all things considered. First, the trophy itself is beautiful, gleaming bronze inlaid with shining stones and other intricacies. As cycling trophies go [hang on, stifling a yawn...] this one stands out.
The name also sells the symbolism a bit short. Neptune is the god of both fresh and salt waters in Roman mythology, and shares his story with Poseidon from the Greek pantheon. He’s shown a lot with his famed trident, and not for nothing, since he supposedly used it to control the oceans and occasionally set off earthquakes just to troll mankind.
Another part of the lore includes his love of horses. As often as not, Neptune is shown atop any number of horses, and flanked by his companions Venilla and Salacia, representing wind and waves, and giving him mad cred for having a posse.
But the horses don’t come with a clear explanation, not in Romany mythology anyway, though Poseidon seems to have had a thing for horse racing. Can you race horses in Atlantis? Not really my department. But for a cycling image, the horses are pretty much perfect, all that power and speed (and fragility, but who’s counting?) dashing across the peninsula.
There are depictions of Neptune all over creation. The one in Bologna kicks a lot of ass, and there are notables in Barcelona, Berlin, and supposedly the mother of all Neptunalia in Atlantis. Oh, and see this nice bit of sculpture? That’s your boy Neptune in the middle.
Neptune also gets a shout-out in the Pixies’ Mr. Grieves, and if that’s not the Roman God Mic Drop Moment, I don’t know what is. Anyway, Neptune is a big deal, and his trident makes for an easier race trophy than giving away one of his horses or arranging for the rider to meet with Salacia. Finally, because this is Italy, the trophy has to be “retrieved” from the sea shortly before it is presented to the winner.* This exercise is carried out by the Coast Guard, at a cost to the public of approximate 25 million Euros.
[*This photo calls into question whether the trident is actually retrieved from the Sea. The whole thing smacks of corruption, if you ask me.]
The race has been won by a lot of Classics specialists and B-list climbers, plus of course the Usual Suspects of Italian Cycling: Saronni, Moser, Bettini, Bartoli, Casagrade, Visentini, Fondriest and even Pippo Pozzato. Someone else who would have liked this race a lot would be il camoscio d'Abruzzo, the Chamois of Abruzzo, old Vito Taccone, the colorful godfather of southern cycling in the 1960s. He never won the race that kicked off in 1966, but he did win a race in 1961 of the same name, Tre Giorni del Sud, bagging a couple stages along the way and probably getting in a few fights, though history has chosen to leave out what are undoubtedly some delicious details.
Did you know! The closest contest in Due Mari history was... last year, when Greg Van Avermaet extended his early season torment of World Champion Peter Sagan with a one-second victory in the overall. You probably do know some or all of this fact, because it was only last year and because one second is the smallest possible time gap in a general classification, except when they award ties and give the race to the rider who lives closest to the race director. Anyway, it was an incredibly dramatic affair, and here’s where it was essentially won:
Sagan goes from way too far out in a pretty conventional sprint against guys whose lunches should be lined up in front of him to eat, and instead hands the stage to Van Avermaet. That half a wheel victory was good for the top time bonus of 10”, as opposed to the 6” for Sagan. That vaulted the Belgian into first by seven seconds over Zdenek Stybar and eight over Sagan, seven of which the President of Fastvakia would recoup the next day. If his post-sprint deficit had been three seconds, or none, Sagan’s performance in the time trial would have been his crowning glory, and he could poke away at the so-called “Rainbow Curse” with his shiny new trident. But it wasn’t, thanks to the antics shown above, and while Van Avermaet waved his new trident around, Sagan was left weeping into his rainbow jersey in the front seat of his Dodge Charger.
Did you know! That eventually I would stop fussing about and talk about this year’s race?
OK, here are the stages, in order:
Stage 1: Flat ITT, 22km out and back along the Camaiore lungomare. Insert wind effects.
Stage 2: 230km stage with three rated climbs in the latter half, leading to a race-ending 10km uphill that maxes out at 8%.
Stage 3: Rolling, downhill sprint stage.
Stage 4: Uphill finish atop the Monte Terminillo.
Stage 5: Wait... what?
A year ago the Queen Stage to Monte San Vicino, all of 1200 meters, was wiped out by a snowstorm, turning the race back into a classics-guys thing and throwing the FSA Directeur Sportif into complete chaos. But Italian race organizers live by the time-honored credo that the solution to a zany scheme gone awry is an even zanier scheme. So finishing atop the 1600-meter Terminillo is just what the doctor ordered. Here’s a screencap of the Terminillo from earlier today:
Can’t wait for Saturday. Oh, and if they do go up the thing, it’s a mo-fo:
Stage 5: An all-day Appennine Adventure, with pretty much no flat terrain, no straight roads, and a finale that looks like this:
There will be sprinter fistfights over the last seat in the sag wagon.
Stage 6: Downhill roller to the coast.
Stage 7: Flat ITT, 10km out-and-back on the lungomare. Insert wind effects.
Did you know! That Greg Van Avermaet is not going to successfully defend his title at the 2017 Tirreno-Adriatico? You do now.
This race is for climbers who can time trial, which reduces the candidate roll in a hurry. Quintana is the clear fave, particularly since the last time the race favored climbers who could time trial was in 2015, when he won. Oh, and they did manage to get up the Terminillo that year, where Quintana dusted the field by 55 seconds and more, except for Bauke Mollema who limited his losses to 41 ticks. Quintana is more than solid enough in the crono to defend that sort of gap, so the plan will be pretty similar this time around, probably.
But we could have ourselves a hell of a race anyway, because his competition includes double-winner Nibali, debutante (?) Fabio Aru, focused Thibault Pinot, steady Rigo Uran, plus Mollema, Adam Yates, Tom Dumoulin, and some sort of Sky contingent including Landa, Thomas and Rosa. Really, it should be a fantastic week, even if guys are still just getting in shape for Milano-Sanremo.
Did you know! That this race is a tune-up for Milano-Sanremo? OK, I’ll stop now.