An unusual parcours
For 2019, the organisers of Tirreno-Adriatico have come up with a route intriguingly different from recent editions.
The headline feature is that there will be no mountain top finish – or, for that matter, any climb long enough to be labelled a full blown mountain.
Instead, the GC will likely be decided on the high gradients of the short finishing climbs on stages two and five, plus the unrelenting undulating terrain on stage four, while the opening 21.5km team time trial and closing 10km individual time trial take on particular importance.
It’s only in the last decade that the Tirreno-Adriatico became a race for climbers and conventional GC riders – in earlier editions, back when the race was seen more as preparation for Milan-San Remo than a rival to Paris-Nice, the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Oscar Freire and Filippo Pozzato managed to win the overall.
This year’s new-look route could see a return to these kinds of Classics specialists challenging for overall victory.
Who the parcours is likely to suit…
Punchy riders who can hold their own in a time trial and have strong enough support to be well positioned after the team time trial will be the riders likely to rise to the for at this Tirreno-Adriatico.
That description perfectly fits Primož Roglič, who’s also on great form having recently won the UAE Tour, during which his Jumbo-Visma proved their credentials as a team time trialling unit by winning the opening stage.
World champions Deceuninck-Quick-Step will also relish the team time trial, and their leader Julian Alaphilippe should gain time over most on the uphill finishes. The main question hanging over him, however, will be weather he can produce a good enough individual time trial, where specialists like Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) could threaten the overall if they survive the earlier hilly stages within touching distance of the lead.
The outcome of the 2016 edition, when the queen stage was snowed off, might also provide clues as to how this race might unfold.
Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) won the overall on that occasion, a single second ahead of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), and both Classics specialist return this year – could they again challenge for the overall too?
…and who it doesn’t
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), winner of the 2012 and 2013 editions, hasn’t shown any real form anyway, but this is a route that he would struggle to win on even at his very best.
The absence of any real mountains will also hinder the likes of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), despite his impressive record at this race of having finished in the top five three editions in a row.
Similarly, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) will rue the lack of a mountain top finish, especially having won the queen stage of last year’s race.
Astana have been the star performers in stage races during the early season, but the parcours may also complicate their approach.
Normally on-form Strade Bianche runner-up Jakob Fuglsang would be their man for the overall, but perhaps the punchy characteristics of the race will better suit the similarity on-form Alexey Lutsenko.
Geraint Thomas rides for Sky
Geraint Thomas leads Sky’s challenge in what will be the first WorldTour stage race of the season for the 2018 Tour de France champion.
Should the route prove not to be to his liking, Sky also have Wout Poels, whose more explosive uphill accelerations could make him a better candidate, and Gianni Moscon.
But Thomas will be keen to use Tirreno-Adriatico to lay down a marker. The next few months of stage races could be seen as a trial for both him and Chris Froome with regards to which rider should lead the team at the Tour de France.
If Thomas starts the season winning major stage races – even one as distinct from the Tour as this edition of Tirreno – it will be difficult for the team to relegate him to a support role come July.
Fernando Gaviria and Elia Viviani face-off
After last month’s UAE Tour saw both land a stage win each, Fernando Gaviria (UAE Emirates) and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) return to Tirreno-Adriatico for a re-match.
With the exception of Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), these two have been the most impressive sprinters of the season so far, and looked very evenly-matched in the UAE.
Given the context of both having been teammates at Quick-Step last year, and with the approach of Milan-San Remo later this month that both are desperate to win, this is developing into a great rivalry that could be one of the highlights of the race.
They’ll likely showdown on stages three and six, which both have flat parcours conducive to bunch finishes. The likes of Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Merida) could also challenge, and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) should of course never be discounted, but Viviani and Gaviria are the two sprinters to beat.