The third race on this year’s UCI WorldTour calendar, Tirreno-Adriatico, starts tomorrow.
Sixteen WorldTour teams will tackle seven stages on a route between the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic coasts of Italy.
Sky Pro Cycling’s eight-man squad for the ‘Race of the Two Seas’ includes three British riders and candidates for stage and overall victories in Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
RadioShack-Nissan-Trek field a similar combination in Fabian Cancellara and Daniele Bennati, both of whom produced strong rides at last Sunday’s Strade Bianche, with Bennati involved in an early-race break and Cancellara powering to victory in a solo effort.
But all eyes will be on BMC Racing, who will field defending champion, Cadel Evans, and last year’s world number one, Philippe Gilbert, perhaps the ultimate pairing for stage and one-day victories.
“My first goal is to see how my fitness is,” Evans said. “I’ve worked reasonably well toward it. To repeat last year’s result here would be an ultimate gauge of my fitness. But we’ll first test my fitness and then see the result.”
Among the big names fielded by rival teams, Lotto-Belisol will send German sprint king, Andre Greipel, the GreenEDGE squad will include the highly accomplished Stuart O’Grady, while Liquigas Cannondale will field Vincenzo Nibali and Peter Velits, both of whom produced strong performances in the Tour of Oman.
The opening day’s team time trial will be contested over a short course of just under 17km from San Vincenzo to Donoratico.
The riders will remain in San Vincenzo overnight before leaving the town on Thursday morning on a 230km epic to Indicatore over a rolling parcours.
Stage three should play into the wheels of the sprinters, delivering a pan flat finish at Terni after a relatively flat 178km from Indicatore.
The fast men of the flat should play no significant part in the fourth stage from Amelia to Chieti, a grueling 252km peppered with climbs, including the climactic Via Salomone, which includes sections at gradients of 19 per cent.
The Queen stage arrives on Saturday (Mar 11) with a brutal 196km from Martinsicuro to Prati di Tivo, which includes the 1227m ascent of the Piano Roseto, whose slopes appear after nearly 162km. The stage’s closing climb, the Prati di Tivo takes the riders above 1000m for a second time. “It makes it a real climber’s race because it’s a long climb, maybe 15 kilometers,” Evans said. “That’s going to change the race from last year a lot and be one of the most important days for the general classification.”
Stage six arrives on Sunday (Mar 12): an anti-clockwise circuit of the town of Offida which ends with six laps of a 16.2km course that includes two short climbs and an uphill finish.
The second of Tirreno-Adriatico’s two individual time trials, arriving on the seventh and final stage, will close the race. A 9.3km ‘out and back’ course on the sea front at San Benedetto del Tronto could prove significant if the general classement remains close after the ascents of stages four and five.