Ordinarily I’d start this piece with a wistful opening paragraph, maybe calling to mind editions of Tirreno-Adriatico from years past. This case is an exception, however, as obviously my first priority needs to be explaining that travesty of a headline. See, this is not only the race of the two seas, the Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic, but this year also the two ‘c’s, which will be explained presently.
C numero uno: Classics racing.
Okay, don’t get me wrong. As year after year has gone by I have come to hate the formulaic coastside TTT and the equally predictable ITT when the race hits the Adriatic. I’d say that even the residents of the always-willing San Benedetto del Tronto have lost their enthusiasm by this point. The race has turned up there without fail since 1967. The Tirreno permacourse involves these two, two flat stages, an uphill sprint, a hilly stage and a hard mountain-top finish. This year, it would seem that Tirreno-Adriatico is shying away from its traditions. Rather, it is re-embracing them. The mountains are a relatively new factor in deciding Tirreno — in the earlier part of this century it was more of a race for the Ardennes riders who could time-trial or even the cobbled classics specialists. We see wins for Thomas Dekker, Paolo Freire, Paolo Bettini and Fabian Cancellara before Tirreno realised that all the cool races were going out and climbing mountains and it changed things up until the race was the domain of the Contadors, Nibalis and Quintanae of this world. However, three years ago the mountains were removed from the race due to no choice of the organisers (unless RCS sport are a whole lot more powerful than I gave them credit for) and we had a ding-dong battle between Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan in a World Tour stage race, something which I think can be classified as a nice change. So this year the mountains have been nixed purely by choice, and we have a series of hilly stages to separate out the field without heading anywhere near hypoxia territory.
Stage one is the aforementioned TTT, in the region of twenty klicks and unchanged in its spirit level-like nature. From then on, though, it gets more interesting. Stage two to Pomarance for example...
...will give plenty of scope for attacks. Last time the race turned up in Pomarance, the victorious individual was none other than Geraint Thomas, so this will be far from an easy outing. However, I don’t think anyone can hope for more than a ten-second gap over what will be a substantial peloton.
Stage three is one of those stages that would be better if ridden backwards, as the sharks-tooth opening kilometres give way to a flat finale in a very long sprint day that I suppose is there to tempt people who still treat this race as MSR prep.
Stage four and five, on Saturday and Sunday, are the, for want of a better metaphor, princess stages. If I’m to go looking for better metaphors, stage four is the snake stage, because it’s long, willing to bite you and by the end of it, none of the riders would turn down an apple if offered.
Those final climbs are serious hills, going into the mid-teens in gradient. There’s no chance anyone even a bit off-colour is hanging on here.
Stage five is the steak knife stage, because much like a steak knife, it’s flat, then jagged and though you probably don’t need it to eat your steak dinner/decide the race, you’re glad it’s there.
Pardon the obvious statement but that’s an awful lot of climbing.
Stage six is for the break and not worth talking about. Stage seven is a ten kilometre time-trial which will be vital and we’ll talk about it in...
C numero due: Competition
Yes, competition. This edition of Tirreno should be a hugely competitive one, as much like a stage race version of Strade Bianche, it’s hilly enough to attract GT contenders but flat enough to attract classics riders, and the battle between the two should be pretty exciting. If riders are going all-out for bonus seconds, you know you’re watching a good race and every bonus second should be a hot commodity here, with the GC likely decided by tiny margins. I went through the startlist and there are eleven riders I genuinely think can win it. So, I’m gonna, you know, list them in no particular order:
Greg Van Avermaet
Obviously some of these are more likely than others. Primoz Roglic is the pretty obvious favourite. The last people to put their stamp so conclusively on the UAE were some pretty dodgy building companies. Roglic and his team dominated from start to finish and this race is suited to his skills very well. His Jumbo-Visma team are, as we all now know, more than adept in the TTT and his individual testing ability and racecraft are by this point beyond reproach. He’s my pick to win because he has everything required, form most importantly.
Tim Wellens, Alexey Lutsenko and Greg Van Avermaet are three guys I think I can cluster together for the purposes of this. They’ve all been targeting the classics and none of them are particularly noted time triallists. What they have, however, is a shorter form curve. All of them are in danger of faltering on the tougher climbs or the final day, but a particularly good week will net them the blue jersey. Rohan Dennis is close to this category apart from the fact that he showed no form in the Middle East and I haven’t a clue where he plans to peak. Yorkshire?
Geraint Thomas could have been better at Strade but I’m not planning on writing off the Tour de France champion. Moscon might be a better bet for Sky, however. His, ahem, combative style should suit the race. Also in the can’t-write-off category is Tom Dumoulin. He wasn’t exactly nowhere in terms of form as Roglic was storming to a UAE win, but he has a way to go. If he’s in form he’ll win the time-trial, which should go some way towards his ambitions of returning home with an ornamental weapon.
Thibaut Pinot and Adam Yates need to time-trial decently to win this, end of. I can picture either winning in the mountains, but not by a large enough margin to negate the Tronto Ten, as nobody calls the final stage. Where did Pinot’s time-trialling go? I suppose we’ll find out.
That leaves us with Julian Alaphilippe. Imperious at Strade but this is a different test. He’s the wildcard for this race and on Deceuninck’s form it’s hard to bet against him. I will though. Roglic should have his number in the time-trial.