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Giro d'Italia organiser RCS Sport will unveil the route for its March-stage race, Tirreno-Adriatico next week and help the Milan-San Remo favourites decide their paths to potential glory. On the table rests the classic choice, to race Tirreno-Adriatico or its older French cousin, Paris-Nice.
RCS Sport will announce the Tirreno-Adriatico parcours on Monday on the Tuscan coast in San Vincenzo. The town will host the opening team time trial, as it did last year, on March 6. The race ends six days later, March 12, in San Benedetto del Tronto, again with a time trial.
Last year, Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen won the sprint stages. Vincenzo Nibali won the mountain stage to Prati di Tivo and defended himself to win the overall in the final day's time trial.
In his blog on Monday, Technical Director Mauro Vegni indicated that this year's parcours will be similar, with two sprint stages, a high mountain stage and mid-mountain stages. Cycling Weekly believes the route, as it winds through Abruzzo and Le Marche, will be something like this...
March 6, stage 1: Team TT in San Vincenzo
March 7, stage 2: sprint stage
March 8, stage 3: sprint stage
March 9, stage 4: mid-moutain
March 10, stage 5: mountain stage
March 11, stage 6: mid-mountain
March 12, stage 7: TT in San Benedetto del Tronto
After the flats of Tuscany and Lazio, the route will enter the Apennine Mountains. The rolling terrain will play host to two mid-mountain stages, like last year's legs to Chieti and Offida. The mountain stage will be tough, but Vegni promised nothing close to the 2000-metre passes the Giro d'Italia offers.
When Nibali won last year's stage to Prati di Tivo, at 1450 metres, skiers stood on the road-side snow banks to watch. The press worked in a ski village with stunning views. The venue felt a long way from Milan-San Remo's finish on the Italian Rivera in just four day's time.
The 2013 route, in fact, will please Nibali, Bradley Wiggins or Alberto Contador, or the classics men preparing for the Tour of Flanders, more than it will Cavendish and the sprinters.
Vegni said that the two sprint finishes are "almost certain as long as their teams are ready to work hard to control the breakaways." Adding, the mid-mountain stages "are perfect preparation for Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders."
Many San Remo favourites, however, will wait for ASO to announce Paris-Nice route. It runs nearly simultaneously, starting three days earlier, from March 3 to 10. Last year, the highest pass in France was 1141 metres, the Côte de Peyroules.
San Remo has seen more winners in recent years coming from Paris-Nice instead of Tirreno, bucking a long-time trend. Simon Gerrans last year and Matt Goss both raced in France, before that, everyone came from Italy. You have to go back to Andrei Tchmil in 1999 to find the first exception.
Tirreno-Adriatico is ever-changing, but has not seen an overall sprint winner since Oscar Freire in 2005. That and the new Paris-Nice/San Remo trend may give some food for thought when both routes are officially known.
"It's the Italians, they always talk about the next race. In Tirreno, they are talking about San Remo. Everything is on that one day classic, a special one," Swiss Fabian Cancellara said last year.
Cancellara won San Remo with a late attack in 2008 after winning the Tirreno-Adriatico overall.
"The parcours changed in the last years. From the year when I won, the race has changed. Now, it suits a Grand Tour rider. In the past, it was bonification sprints when [Mario] Cipollini was still there. Still, it's good preparation. I can't speak for Paris-Nice."
After Paris-Nice in 2011, Goss raced Tirreno-Adriatico last year to prepare for Milan-San Remo. He spoke of the extra two non-race days between the races.
"In Paris-Nice you have that one week, six days afterwards where you body can start to shut down if you don't do the right rides," said Goss last year. "You're taking a gamble with weather and things. With Tirreno, you finish, recover and race. I think it's a more reliable approach to San Remo."
Vegni is confident many San Remo riders will decide on his race, saying that it is "finely balanced" and offers "stages for every kind of rider."
Definitive programmes are hard to come by, but tentative plans have André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) racing Tirreno and Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in France.
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