It was an unusual edition of Tirreno-Adriatico, and one that may be remembered for a number of reasons
- Photos from Graham Watson and Yuzuru Sunada
Don’t talk about the weather
When RCS Sport cancelled Sunday’s mountain stage to Monte San Vicino due to forecast heavy snow and adverse weather conditions, they quite rightly assumed they were doing the right thing. Having seen what happened during Paris-Nice, where stage three was started, then neutralised and then cancelled altogether, they were probably keen to avoid a similar situation.
It seems that you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The lack of high mountains stages did inevitably do the climbers out of a chance of winning the race, and no-one appeared to be more unhappy about that than Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Nibali has said that he may not now ride the Giro d’Italia – also run by RCS – if they start cancelling mountain stages.
Nibali’s comments were then met with equal ridicule from some quarters, with Matt Brammeier (Dimension Data) responding: “better you stay home and skip the whole season you narrow minded, selfish moron”. Nibali is apparently consulting his lawyers about that one.
Greg Van Avermaet’s big surprise
No-one gained more from the cancellation of stage five than Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing). The Belgian one-day specialist was there to contest stage wins and keep his form ahead of the impending classics. Little did he know that he’d be adding his name to the list of recent winners, which includes the likes of Grand Tour champions Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador.
Van Avermaet took a narrow victory over Peter Sagan (more of that later…) on stage six to move into the race lead. Subsequently, he put in a solid time trial performance – one of the best of his career – to keep Sagan from grabbing the overall victory. In doing so he not only became the first Belgian to win the race since 1977, but also took his first WorldTour stage race overall victory.
In future years, when we cast an eye over the Tirreno winners’ list with faded memory and see Van Avermaet’s name among the wiry climbers we may wonder how he did it. But you can only beat the riders in the race, and you can only win on the route that you are presented with, and Van Avermaet did just that.
Peter Sagan second again… but just wait
Various statistics are being bandied about at exactly how many second places Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) has managed to chalk up during his professional debut in 2009. Some say it’s as much as 70. He added some more in the past week, including second overall, and his 2016 season has so far been winless in the rainbow jersey of world champion.
However, we were all saying the same thing last year when Sagan seemed to also rack up numerous second places – until we largely forgot all about it with his stunning win in the world championships.
Sagan is incredibly consistent and a versatile all-rounder. It’s precisely why he has won the points classification in the Tour de France for the past four years. He’s won a whole lot else in the past seven years too, including four stages of the Tour de France and four of the Vuelta a España.
He’s also still only 26 years old – four years the junior of winner Van Avermaet. He has at least another, say, eight years to add in plenty more victories.
Don’t be surprised to see Sagan attempting to get his revenge at Milan-San Remo on Saturday and into the rest of the classics, the Tour, the Olympics, the World Championships…
(And Sagan finally shaved his legs, too)
Fabian Cancellara isn’t holding back in his final year
We’re used to seeing Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) handing out crushing defeats against the clock and during the classics. His first world title time trial title was as a junior in 1998, and he’s continued amassing victories ever since to establish himself as one of the finest time trial and classics riders of not only his generation, but of all time.
All good things come to an end, and Cancellara has said that he will call it a day at the end of the 2016 season at the age of 35. Rather than letting his career whimper out, fighting to scrape into the top 10, he looks like he’s in frighteningly sharp form. He was in a league of his own in the final Tirreno TT stage, beating second-placed Johan Le Bon (FDJ) by a huge 13 seconds over 10.1 kilometres. After Cancellara, the following 16 riders were all within 13 seconds of each other.
On his day, he’s still that much better than everyone else, as his recent victory in Strade Bianche also confirms.
FDJ has changed for the better
French team FDJ opened Tirreno-Adriatico with a genuinely stunning performance in the team time trial, taking third behind two squads with an unrivalled pedigree of TTT performances: BMC Racing and Etixx-QuickStep.
We should have seen it coming. The squad has made no secret of having worked on its riders’ time trial bikes, positioning and aerodynamics over the winter. A TTT victory – the team’s first – in La Méditerranéenne in February showed that their aero tinkering had worked wonders.
The FDJ time trial surprises then continued with Johan Le Bon laying down the early fast mark that subsequently was only beaten by Cancellara, and ended up better than TT specialists Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Alex Dowsett (Movistar).
FDJ’s Tour de France hope Thibaut Pinot is also much quicker against the clock this season, finishing only a second slower than Vincenzo Nibali in the final TT to put himself in fifth place overall. That made the 25-year-old Frenchman the best of the climbers that were denied their mountain showdown. That ability will put Pinot, and FDJ as a whole, in a much stronger position in the Tour.