Early-season stage race offers an unpredictable challenge thanks to habitually tough weather on a difficult parcours

Vincenzo Nibali thrives in Italy’s Tirreno-Adriatico stage race because of what he called its unpredictable nature. On Wednesday, along the Tuscan coast in Lido di Camaiore, he will begin his quest for a third title.

In 2013, to win his second title, team Astana’s Nibali overhauled Sky’s Chris Froome on the penultimate day to Porto Sant’Elpidio. The relentless rain and steep climbs, sometimes up to 27 per cent, in Marche’s countryside worked in Nibali’s favour. Froome, who said he did not have the legs, lost control.

Just 48 hours earlier, Froome had destroyed the field on the Prati di Tivo climb to take the leader’s blue jersey. That kind of drastic change in fortunes, Nibali warned today, is what makes Tirreno-Adriatico special.

“My experience is that there’s not a single stage that makes the difference, but day after day, any stage can be important,” Nibali said in a press conference. “It’s a very nervous and difficult race. The times that I won, it’s just been in the last days.”

Froome, who has been in South Africa training at altitude, will miss Tirreno-Adriatico and race next in Spain’s Volta a Catulunya.

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Tirreno-Adriatico opens with a 22.7-kilometre team time trial in Lido di Camaiore on Wednesday. Already on Thursday, Nibali and rivals like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Sky’s Wout Poels, face an 18 per cent climb three kilometres from the finish line in Pomarance. The ‘queen stage’ this year climbs 10 kilometres to reach Monte San Vicino at 1,208 metres. Unlike in 2013, the penultimate day through Abruzzo should be calm, before the race ends with a 10.05-kilometre time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto.

Nibali has the ability to climb, but also to descend like a missile and manage his bike with grace. In May 2013 at the Giro d’Italia, when Bradley Wiggins crashed on wet roads further south down Italy’s east coast from Porto Sant’Elpidio, Nibali took control and positioned himself for his first overall title. Those same skills will come in handy this week as bad weather is predicted once again.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) takes a stage win at last year's Tirreno in brutal conditions. Photo: Graham Watson

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) takes a stage win at last year’s Tirreno in brutal conditions. Photo: Graham Watson

He already proved his fitness with an overall win in the Tour of Oman last month ahead of Frenchman Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale). That form and local knowledge led Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) to label Nibali as Tirreno-Adriatico’s race favourite.

“Tirreno-Adriatico is hard for its weather, and last year we had a day through the snow [when Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won]. The time trials are very important, especially the first one tomorrow. I feel good. I’ll see day after day how my legs respond,” added Nibali.

“This won’t be easy. The race is nervous as always and the level is high. Valverde rode well in Strade Bianche, he has good form. Other riders have also had good races recently. Tirreno, though, is an uncertainty until the very end.”