For the second year in a row Vincenzo Nibali has won the seven-stage Tirreno-Adriatico cycling race, this year defeating a very tough field of international cycling stars.
While many powerful riders contested the Paris-Nice as usual, this year many of the best ProTour riders decided they preferred the Tirreno-Adriatico to start their seasons. Sky’s Chris Froome, Saxo-Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador, and RadioShack’s Chris Horner were among the entrants, along with sprint-meisters mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quickstep and Lotto-Belisol’s André Greipel.
Facing this deep field, Nibali, who switched from Liquigas-Cannondale to Astana in the off-season, showed that he was even stronger this year than last.
“I’m really, really happy with this Tirreno. It’s something really important to win and of course it’s my first win of the season, Nibali told Eurosport.com. “This one is perhaps more important than my win than last year because of the riders like Rodriguez, Froome and Contador who came. It’s been a fantastic Tirreno.”
Terrible weather made the long stages even more of a trial for the riders; cold rain lashed the course almost every day, leaving muscles stiff and roads wet. Nibali lost four team mates just in Stage Six, which started dry and then was hit hard by cold rain.
The Astana rider didn’t show any weakness. He worked his way up through the General Classification to take the race lead in the penultimate stage, while all his challengers ran out of gas.
Nibali secured his win with a 12th-place finish in the final 9.2-km time trial. Now the Italian rider will focus on the Giro d’Italia in May, the race he really wants to win.
Tony Martin led Omega Pharma-Quickstep to a win in the opening stage, a Team Time Trial, with Mark Cavendish crossing the line first to win the race leader’s blue jersey.
Stage Two was the first of two sprint stages. Everyone was eager to see a face-off between Omega’s Mark Cavendish and Lotto’s André Greipel, but it never happened. No team could establish control in the closing kilometers, and the sprint was pure chaos. Orica-GreenEdge rider Matthew Goss finished first, with Cavendish fighting through the crowds to finish fifth and Greipel, seventh.
Cannondale’s Peter Sagan surprised everyone by beating both Cavendish and Greipel in the sprint at the end of Stage Three. The second half of the 190-km stage was quite hilly, which might have favored Sagan but Cavendish in particular has showed his climbing ability in past races. Maybe it is too early in the season for the former world champion to be on form—or maybe 23-year-old phenomenon Peter Sagan has gained that much speed.
Stage Four marked the start of the climbing stages with as long mountaintop finish, and here Sky’s Chris Froome—and his Sky team mates—showed their strength. Saxo-Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador made it clear that he wanted to win in his first Tirreno-Adriatico, attacking repeatedly in the final three kilometers, but he didn’t have the legs to make it stick. Vincenzo Nibali launched his own bid in the final two kilometers, and attacked again with 900 meters to go.
Froome let all that play out, content to let team mates Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao pull him up the hill, until Nibali’s last attack, when Froome made his move. The Sky leader caught Nibali in 200 meters and motored on to take the stage win. Omega’s Michal Kwiatkowski, only 22, showed his promise by finishing fourth and taking the race lead.
Stage Five was very long—230 km—and finished with a ten-percent, 1.5-km climb with ramps up to 19 percent. This is exactly the kind of course where Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez excels, and he seized the stage, leaving everyone else struggling behind him. Sky’s Chris Froome finished sixth, eight seconds down, which was good enough to give him the race lead.
Stage Six proved to be decisive. 209 km long with a couple dozen short steep climbs, this stage was tough not because of the number of climbs, but because of the incline: the steepest was a ridiculous thirty percent gradient. The real killer was the Sant’Elpido a Mare ascent, three kms at six percent, ramping up to 21 percent in places. Riders tackled this beast three times in the three laps of the course.
A breakaway of a dozen-and-a-half riders escaped early, and slowly shrank as the day wore on. Cannondale pushed the pace, riding for Peter Sagan, and the weather, the speed, and the terrain combined to spread out the peloton.
Vincenzo Nibali attacked the last time up the Sant’Elpido a Mare climb, with RadioShack’s Chris Horner following. This pair was joined by Peter Sagan and Euskatel’s Sammy Sanchez; Sanchez couldn’t hold the pace, but Joaquim Rodriguez, happy on the steepest hills, replaced him. This trio had opened a 44-second gap over the chasers by the end of the stage. Peter Sagan took the stage win, while his old team mate Nibali took over the maglia azzurra, the race leader’s blue jersey.
Behind the three leaders came two chase groups. The first included Alberto Contador, who was clearly struggling; he finished seventh, 44 seconds down. Further back came the group containing Chris Froome; the Sky rider had run out of gas on the climbs, but tried hard to fight back in the closing few kilometers. His group crossed the line 50 seconds after Sagan’s group.
Froome maintained second in GC, but was 34 seconds behind Vincenzo Nibali—far too much to make up in a very short time trial.
The short, flat Stage Seven time trial was Froome’s only, very slight chance to recoup the blue jersey. It was also Nibali’s best chance to secure his first win of 2103.
World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin won Stage Seven, unsurprisingly, averaging 52.992 kph over the flat, 9.2-km course. Lampre’s Adriano Malori took second with Movistar’s Andrey Amador, quite surprisingly, third.
Froome turned in a good ride, finishing sixth, just 15 seconds off Tony Martin’s time, but Vincenzo Nibali in 12th was only 11 seconds off Froome’s pace, giving him the race win by 23 seconds. Alberto Contador’s 15th-place time of 10:55 moved him into third in GC, though surely the Spanish champion is disappointed with his performance on the hills.
Omega’s Michal Kwiatkowski finished fourth, and excellent result for the 22-year-old Omega rider.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.