Tirreno-Adriatico 2016 is shaping up to be an exciting early-season test for the General Classification hopefuls – here’s our pick of the bunch for next week’s race (2-15 March).
Such is his all-round ability, it seems almost unfair to label world champion Peter Sagan a mere sprinter.
The Slovakian notched up his first win of 2015 on stage six of last year’s race and, having won the points classification in the previous two editions of Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tinkoff rider will be confident of a successful week in Italy.
He is yet to get off the mark in 2016, four top-10 finishes at January’s Tour de San Luis followed by second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and seventh at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne a day later – will history repeat itself?
Never one for the easy option, Mark Cavendish has set himself a monumental task for this season, aiming to wear the Tour de France‘s maillot jaune in July, take Olympic gold in the Omnium in August and reclaim the rainbow jersey in October.
His training will naturally be skewed towards peaking in the second half of the season, but Cav will be keen on turning in a strong performance at Tirreno-Adriatico against a strong field to gauge his progress so far.
Like Cavendish, Elia Viviani is balancing his track and road commitments and is also lining up the Omnium event at this summer’s Rio Olympics.
The Italian has impressed already in this campaign, twice making the podium at the Tour de San Luis before taking stage two of the Dubai Tour ahead of Sacha Modolo and Giacomo Nizzolo (both of whom will also be at Tirreno-Adriatico) and finishing second to Marcel Kittel on stage four, ahead of the third-placed Cavendish.
He won a bunch sprint for second the following day (beating Sagan into fourth) and took stage three and the points jersey at Tour Cycliste International La Provence in February to lay down a solid early-season marker ahead of Tirreno.
The obvious favourite for this year’s edition of Tirreno is multiple Grand Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali.
The Shark of Messina looked strong in tough conditions when he won the queen stage en route to the general classification at the Tour of Oman in February and, as a two-time winner of Tirreno-Adriatico, Nibali will be familiar enough with the race to target another victory.
Tejay van Garderen
Tejay van Garderen‘s 2015 was pretty abysmal: he was forced to abandon both the Tour de France (on stage 17 while in third on GC) and the Vuelta a Espana and, to cap it all, his team signed Richie Porte as a rival team leader.
But the American showed Grand Tour potential until his unfortunate withdrawal from last year’s Tour de France and will certainly have used that disappointment to fuel his off-season training.
He looked sharp in the Ruta del Sol, winning the stage four time trial to take the race lead, only to see Alejandro Valverde take the final stage and with it the overall victory, but he looks in good shape ahead of this one.
Not a pure climber, he’s only had three races so far in 2016 due to illness, coming second to Gianluca Brambilla at Trofeo Pollenca-Port de Andratx and second to Fabian Cancellara at Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana the very next day, so the signs are there that the Pole’s preparation for the year is on track.
While his ability to survive an entire three-week race at the top of the GC standings is questionable, over seven days Dan Martin can hold his own with the best of them.
Now with an arguably much stronger squad behind him, Martin will be quietly confident of winning another week-long race, having won Volta a Catalunya in 2013 and the Tour of Poland in 2010.
He already has a victory in 2016, taking stage two of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in early February, and with Tony Martin and Zdenek Stybar on his team for Tirreno-Adriatico Martin could be a dark horse for this race.