What makes the perfect stage race? Riders have their say

Mountains, time trials or sprints… What makes a perfect week-long stage race? The riders racing this week in Tirreno-Adriatico have their say.

Michal Kwiatkowski at the 2019 Paris-Nice (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

The 2019 Tirreno-Adriatico for the first time in years lacks any summit finishes for climbers, but offers time trials and punchy mixed-mountain days. The race runs almost parallel with Paris-Nice, with only one time trial, won by Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) on Thursday, three flat stages and the Turini summit finish as well as the final stage around the hills of Nice. But what makes the perfect stage race?

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"Woahhh... It depends what rider you are, for me it's perfect to have these middle [mountain] stages with middle mountains and hard uphill finishes, it's always nice for me but another guy is going to say he needs a time trial and uphill finish," Olympic champion and Classics star Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) told Cycling Weekly.

"Every rider looks at it for himself, and I think a time trial specialist likes to come here, you have two time trials, other guys go somewhere else. For me the Binckbank Tour fits me because it's for Classics riders. It depends which rider you are."

Punchier stages rather than mountain top finishes attract Classics riders (Sunada)

Interestingly, Van Avermaet won Tirreno-Adriatico in 2016. That edition, the organiser under pressure with the extreme weather protocol, cancelled the summit finish due to threatening storms. Without the big climb, the Belgian had his chance.

This year, Tirreno-Adriatico began with a 21.5-kilometre team time trial and ends with a 10-kilometre individual time time trial. Paris-Nice had its 25.5km time trial.

Other small week-long stage races dot the calendar, from the Tour Down Under to the Binckbank Tour with a variety of different stages. The Binckbank Tour offers plenty of pavé and small climbs. Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) won in 2018, which gave him the idea to push for the cobbled Classics in 2019 for the first time.

"Paris Nice or Tirreno, you're asking me? Tirreno, every time," said Brit Steve Cummings (Dimension Data), who won a stage in 2016.

"I don't think a perfect week-long race exists but I prefer Tirreno. Probably a good example why are the first two stages of Paris-Nice this year [with the crosswinds and bad weather]. I think it [Tirreno-Adriatico] suits me better with the climbing and it's a bit tricky. I like it here."

Cummings, if he had to design a race, would include "something for everyone. A bit of opportunity for everyone, that creates a good race and a hard race."

That idea was behind Velon's Hammer Series, with sprints, climbs and team time trials. The race series is still pushing to catch on.

"What makes it perfect? A mix of everything, I think," said American Chad Haga (Sunweb). "You always need a couple of sprint stages, mountain days. I enjoy a time trial or team time trial, just everything to make sure the victory is well-rounded.

"I prefer Tirreno-Adriatico, I have done it a handful of times. It's good hard racing. But the Tour de Romandie is always a big one that I enjoy."

The Tour de Romandie, won by Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013 and 2014, is often used as a pre-Giro d'Italia tune up along with the Tour of the Alps, a five-day stage race.

"What makes a good stage race is short transfers, good hotels, good roads – that's always a bonus when you are not stressed on the roads because there are potholes or cracks or anything, that always makes everything that little less stressful and you can really let you legs do the talking when it really matters," world time trial champion, Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) said.

An individual or team time trial can be a good way to shake up the race for riders (Sunada)

"That's the race side of things. The terrain in every race is different. I like the Tour of California because there are good hotels, good roads. It's pretty relaxed but still the best guy with the best legs always wins."

In the Tour of California, Dennis won the Mount Diablo in 2014 and a time trial stage in 2016. In his new team, they are building him as a Grand Tour rider after he aims at the 2020 Olympic time trial. This May, he goes back to the seven-day stage race in California.

For Italian Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), it's an easy decision. "Tirreno-Adriatico is my favourite especially because we are in Italy," he said. "What makes a good week long stage race? Sun and good a course. A good course is when you have the legs, that's first, and when it's hard and you can keep with the first riders."

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