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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

42nd Tirreno-Adriatico - ProTour

Italy, March 14-20, 2007

A parcours to test Giro contenders

By Gregor Brown

2006 winner Thomas Dekker (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The 42nd Tirreno-Adriatico will be a course to test the legs of the Giro d'Italia contenders as the organisers are returning to the format that produced an exciting 2006 edition with a time trial and a mountain top finish in the closing stages of the race between two seas, or Corsa dei Due Mari.

The diversity of the course should attract more Grand Tour contenders and less of the sprinters, who will need to build for Milano-Sanremo on March 24. Many Giro contenders will go head-to-head on the Civitanova time trial stage and, one day later, the mountain top finish to San Giacomo. Last year, weather conditions forced a shortened climb, but still produced a thrilling result, with young Thomas Dekker (Rabobank) showing his emerging talent.

The race starts on Italy's west coast, along the Mar Tirreno, with a sprinters' stage. However, the fast-men will need to be careful; the run-in is tricky, with a sharp climb only 30 kilometres from the finish. Day one could see a sprinter take the overall lead or an attack by a rider of the calibre of Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Innergetic).

Stage two will leave the sea, travelling east from Civitavecchia and finishing in Marsciano after a gruelling 202 kilometres. The distance will serve as training for some but will also wear into the spirits of others who are hoping for the overall win.

An overall winner could materialise on the 213 kilometre stage three from Marsciano to Macerata. The riders will cross the Passo del Cornello (813m in height) mid-way through the stage before arriving at the closing circuits, which include four climbs up to Macerata. The final ascent to the finish, should see an explosion in the lead pack that will help shape the overall and give us our start, reverse, order for stage five's time trail.

Travelling further into the Le Marche region, with views of Mar Adriatico, stage four will be one for the opportunists. A rolling parcours should help a group go free while the overall contenders save their legs for the following day's time test.

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Last year's time trial, a first in years of the Tirreno, shaped the outcome of the race and gave us a preview for the World Championships. Dekker moved into the overall lead with a solid ride while Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) took the win, a forecast of things to come seven months later when he claimed the rainbow jersey in Austria. Again, we are likely to see the guns fire and race decided in the Civitanova zone.

Leaving from Civitanova Marche, on the beachside, the riders will travel 20.5 kilometres to the finish in Civitanova Alta. 'Alta' means 'high' in Italian and 'suffering' in cycling; the riders will hit a 4.6 kilometre rise at kilometre 10.3, which includes a 10% gradient midway up, and a 12% wall to welcome them into Civitanova Alta. Afterwards, there will be some time for recouping on the 4.5 kilometre decent (-87m) to the finish.

The following day is no less technical but more tactical; riders will be watching one another in the early part of the 164 kilometre stage to San Giacomo. The climbing starts 102 kilometres into the day, up to Imposte (1073m), but the real kicker is the finish. Anyone that has the legs will want to try an attack on the sharp run from Cesano, up past San Vito, to San Giacomo. Hopefully this year the weather will hold; last year the organisers were forced to shorten the stage, won by Leonardo Bertagnolli (now with Liquigas), due to bad conditions.

Ivan Basso (Discovery)
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
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The final day will be a parade lap along the Mar Adriatico and a chance for the sprinters to duel one last time before they meet four days later in Piazza Sant'Ambrogio, for Milano-Sanremo. Look to see Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) clash with Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre-Fondital) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank).

Dekker is returning to defend his title but the 22 year-old Dutchman will face some serious rivals. Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) will bring with him the same form that took him to victory last weekend in the Milano-Torino, and could finally add his name to the Corsa dei Due Mari. This year's edition, with punchy finishes and a steep finish to San Giacomo, seems perfectly suited to The Killer. However, in his team is 2003 winner, Filippo Pozzato, and the rider from Veneto should be in good form as one of his season's goals is Sanremo.

Di Luca and the other Giro favourites will want to keep an eye on Ivan Basso. The 2006 Giro winner slightly banged his knee in the Tour of California but claimed it did not do him any harm. Tirreno will provide an indicator of form for his rivals and a time trial test for the rider from Varese. The same will follow for American Tyler Hamilton of Tinkoff Credit Systems. It will be his first big race back and his form will be closely watched in light of the Giro, only two months later.

World Champion Bettini could be an outside danger-man for the overall if he can establish gaps in the earlier stages that are insurmountable over the TT run and one that he can hold on San Giacomo. The 2004 winner will be in-form for Tirreno as the Classics follow shortly after.

Other favourites include Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo), Dario Cioni (Predictor-Lotto), Tour Méditerranéen winner Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d'Epargne) and Michael Boogerd (Rabobank).