Richie Porte's last-minute change to race Tirreno-Adriatico instead of Paris-Nice could pay off ahead of the Giro d'Italia. Sky called him in to replace Chris Froome, who pulled out due to back injury.
"To be honest, Paris-Nice was probably one of the most stressful races to go into," the Australian told reporters yesterday. "It wasn't a parcours that suited me this year anyhow. It shouldn't be seen as a sign of disrespect to Paris-Nice because this course makes me much more happy to come and race."
The week-long stage race in central Italy crosses east from the Tyrrhenian to Adriatic sea, what the organisers calls the Corsa dei Due Mari or the Race of the Two Seas. It features a little bit of everything: a team and individual time trial, a mountain top and a short, sharp uphill finish, and three days for the sprinters. It starts today with an 18.5-kilometre team time trial on the Tuscan coast in San Vincenzo and ends on Tuesday in San Benedetto del Tronto.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) pressured Froome last year and took the lead on the penultimate day. He scored his second consecutive overall victory 24 hours later. Two months later, he won the Giro d'Italia. Froome went on to race, and win, the Tour de France.
Porte won Paris-Nice last March and helped Froome to his Tour victory. This year, Sky gave him the green light to lead its Giro d'Italia team from May 9 to June 1. If he wants to win, then a refresher on Italian racing could only help.
He participates in the Race of the Two Seas for the first time in his five years as a professional, two with Saxo Bank and the last three years with Sky.
"I'll do other races in Italy, the Giro del Trentino and Coppi e Bartali," Porte told Cycling Weekly in an interview this winter. "I'll get my taste of Italian races."
The taste will serve Porte. As Bradley Wiggins saw last year, Italian racing has a particular flavour. The 2013 Giro d'Italia featured several technical stages that made a recipe for disaster when mixed with bad weather. Wiggins crashed and lost contact on the small rain-soaked climbs and roads leading to Pescara. He abandoned in the second week with a cold and sore knee.
Porte raced the Giro twice. In his first, his debut year, he held the leader's pink jersey and won the white young rider's jersey.
"The Giro's hard. It's unpredictable," Porte said. "The key for me in the Giro is to not get sick. We've seen the weather can be a massive factor."
The forecast shows sun and 10 to 17°C this week for Tirreno-Adriatico. The warm-up should be perfect for Porte and other Giro contenders, like Cadel Evans (BMC) and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma), who arrived in San Vincenzo earlier this week.
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Manx sprinter Mark Cavendish will use Tirreno-Adriatico to fine-tune his form ahead of Milan-San Remo on March 23
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