With last year’s winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and runner-up Chris Froome (Sky) non-starters at the 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico (March 12-18), the road is clear for a new victor to emerge.
We pick out the men most likely to appear on the podium this year…
Richie Porte (Sky)
Sky’s decision to withdraw Porte from Paris-Nice in order to replace Chris Froome at Tirreno underlines just how seriously they’re taking this race. With domestiques like Peter Kennaugh, Mikel Nieve and Ian Stannard at his disposal, and a well-suited 9.2 kilometre flat time trial on route, Porte could well dominate in the same manner that saw him win Paris-Nice this time last year.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
The young Colombian possesses the impressive ability of being competitive in most races he enters, and he’s already won the Tour de San Luis this season. His uphill accelerations will be difficult for team Sky to control, but both Wiggins and Porte should put time into him in the time trial.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo)
The usually prolific Contador failed to seal a single overall win last year, partly due to the irresistible form of team Sky, and partly due to his own post-doping ban shortcomings. He was thwarted again at last month’s Volta ao Algave, but did look in good nick and managed to win a stage. With a strong team featuring Roman Kreuziger and Nicholas Roche, only a fool would write him off.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky)
We all know that Wiggins has all the attributes to win overall, but his form is an unknown quantity. Thus far he’s only ridden the Vuelta a Andalucia, where he finished way down on the GC but did manage sixth in the time trial. He’ll probably be working for Porte, but could see Froome’s absence as the perfect opportunity to remind everyone what he is capable of.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma–QuickStep)
Kwiatkowski made a name for himself at last year’s Tirreno when he claimed the leader’s jersey on stage four, and went on to top the young riders classification and finish fourth overall. This year the Pole has moved from strength to strength, first getting the better of Contador to win the Volta ao Algave, before claiming an even more impressive victory at the Strade Bianche. He’s up against some first-rate climbers at the Tirreno, but his current form suggests that victory is not beyond the 23-year old.
Cadel Evans (BMC)
He may have turned 37 last month, but Evans continues to register decent results. The Australian enjoyed riding on home roads in January – where he finished second in the National Road Race Championships and won at stage and finished second overall in the Tour Down Under – and has previous in the Tirreno, which he won in 2011. This year, he could pull off a podium finish.
Diego Ullisi (Lampre-Merida)
In the absence of Nibali, the tifosi don’t have much promise of a home victory, but Diego Ullisi is capable of pulling off a surprise. The 24 year old has threatened to make a breakthrough for several years now, but has lacked the consistency to win a week-long race. Third overall at the Tour Down Under suggest that may not longer be a problem.
Ones to Watch
Mark Cavendish (Omega-Pharma-Quick Step)
Many observers read last year’s Tour de France as Cavendish’s dethroning as the peloton’s sprint king at the expense of Marcel Kittel, but the Manxman will undoubtedly be desperate to prove them wrong. Tirreno provides him an opportunity to begin doing so, as well as gain some form for Milan-San Remo, which he has recently confirmed he will ride.
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano)
He’s already won the Tour Down Under Classic and three stages at the Dubai Tour, but this is where Kittel’s season as the incumbent world’s best sprinter really begins. They’ll be more pressure on him than before, but the 25 year old appears to possess a mature enough head to handle it.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol)
Greipel is the on-form sprinter in the peloton, but it’s at about this time that he starts to cede dominance to Cavendish. Greipel also intends to ride Milan-San Remo, where, if he can get one over his rivals at the Tirreno, he will line up as a strong favourite.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
Sagan has pedigree at the Tirreno having won two stages here last year, even beating Cavendish and Greipel in a straightforward bunch sprint. Stage three looks like his best chance of success this time round, finishing as it does in a short uphill.
Full 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico (March 12-18) race preview: stages, TV guide, teams, recent winners and much more