We rate the front runners for the 2015 edition of Tirreno-Adriatico (March 11-17)

When the provisional Tirreno-Adriatico start list was released, it looked like one of the strongest line-ups of any race for many years. Since then, Chris Froome (Sky) has said that he will not start due to illness, reducing the competitiveness of the overall classification.

However, the start list does still boast all three winners of 2014 Grand Tours: Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Along with a host of other riders who will be hunting for stage wins in the WorldTour-level event.

Here we rate the chances of the main contenders.

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Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-SaxoContador dominated the race last year by winning two consecutive mountain stages and the overall by over two minutes ahead of Quintana. With his strongest challenger – Chris Froome – no longer taking part, Contador is looking the most in-form contender, particularly after his recent performance at Ruta del Sol.

Nairo Quintana, MovistarCycling Weekly rating four out of fiveQuintana is perhaps a little slower to reach top form than Contador, as suggested by his loss to the him at the Tirreno last year, and his third place in a weak Tour de San Luis field at the start of this season. But that ride was over a month ago, and the Colombian may have ridden himself into better form in training.

Joaquim Rodriguez, KatushaCycling Weekly rating three out of fiveRodriguez may not be quite at the level to win the overall in such a strong field, but he has a decent record at Tirreno-Adriatico recently having finished fifth in 2013 and sixth in 2012. A similar ranking looks likely this year.

Vincenzo Nibali, AstanaCycling Weekly rating two out of fiveLike last year, Nibali appears to be taking a different approach to his rivals by easing his way gradually into top form rather than competing for the overall in early season races. 20th overall at the Tour of Oman and 40th at Strade Bianche do little to suggest he’ll be anywhere near the top of the classification at the Tirreno, but the Italian may be motivated to perform in his home race.

Rigoberto Uran, Etixx-QuickStepCycling Weekly rating two out of fiveThe first signs that Uran is working his way into form this season were witnessed last weekend when he registered a somewhat surprising seventh at Strade Bianche, the kind of difficult spring classic not normally associated with the Colombian. He’ll be on more familiar territory on the climbs and in the time-trials at Tirreno, and could make the top five.

Daniel Martin, Cannondale-GarminLast year’s Tour of Lombardy winner may yet develop into a stage race and Grand Tour winner as well as one of the best classics riders in the peloton, but he’s unlikely to make the transition this week. His priority for now will be to build his form ahead of the Ardennes Classics.

Ones to Watch

Mark Cavendish, Etixx-QuickStep
No rider has won more races in 2015 than Mark Cavendish, and the Manxman is currently on a run of three consecutive wins. He’ll be up against it to continue that run at Tirreno with only two flat stages for him and his sprint rivals to contest. He should have been up against Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), but the German will be a non-starter due to illness.

Adam Yates, Orica-GreenEdge
Orica-GreenEdge’s Sports Director Matt White has stated that the team will help support Yates’ bid for a high overall finish, and it is hoped that the 22-year old will continue his development by competing with the major favourites. Overall victory will be beyond him given the strength of the field, but White’s aim for a top ten finish looks realistic.

Peter Sagan, Tinkoff-Saxo
Although without a win so far this year, Sagan has shown signs of improving form over the past few weeks as he builds his shape towards the Spring Classics. We’d bet on him being a protagonist on stage three of the race, which has an uphill drag to the line.