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43rd Tirreno-Adriatico - HC
Italy, March 12-18, 2008
By Gregor Brown
When RCS Sport announced the parcours of its springtime tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, at the beginning of February, it became evident that this would be the course chosen for the big sprint guns in their lead-up to the Milano-Sanremo which takes place four days after the race's conclusion in San Benedetto del Tronto. The 43rd edition of the Corsa dei Due Mari ('race of two seas') will see the likes of Tom Boonen, Alessandro Petacchi, Oscar Freire and Paolo Bettini battle in the sprints as the race covers seven stages, March 12 to 18.
The 2008 edition of the race will follow the traditional parcours in the west to east direction, from Mar Tirreno to Mare Adriatico, clocking 1122 kilometres along the way. Won in 2007 by Andreas Klöden, this year's parcours will offer an alternative to those not riding in the controversial and mountainous Paris-Nice, and a 'warm-up' for Milano-Sanremo on March 22. Overall, it is a race that respects the riders' early season form, with stages for sprinters and all-arounders.
The first day kicks off in Civitavecchia should be one for the sprinters who can survive over the dual ascents of the Bivio di Sassicari climb at 43 and 23 kilometres to go. With three flat, fast finishing circuits in the seaside town of Civitavecchia, the race should allow ample opportunity for the fast men to put their trains together to launch the bunch gallop.
Stage two is the main west to east traveller and will likely put the cat amongst the pigeons, splitting the classification battle for the yellow and red leader's jersey. The longest stage of the race – 203 kilometres, ending in Umbria's Gubbio – will see only the tough survive the six kilometre long Belvedere climb with just 17 kilometres to go and go on to battle the slow-rising final 4.75-kilometres.
Stage three starts from Gubbio and travels 195 kilometres to bring the riders to the 1.78-kilometre wall of a finish in Montelupone. The organisers have thrown in a one-two punch by sending the riders twice up the torturous 20% maximum gradient on the climb that averages 12.1%: first with 25.9 kilometres to go, before the race heads out for a loop around the town, and a second time at the finish of a stage which will test the legs of the GC contenders.
The final four stages of the race are held along the Adriatico seaside. Stage four will be the one for escapees who can fare well on a parcours that rolls; no climb goes over 350 metres but the profile looks like a saw blade. After a GPM (Gran Premio Della Montagna) at 8.7 kilometres to go to Civitanova Marche, there are 4.75 kilometres of flat run-in to let the tactics of the winning move play out.
The organisers included an individual time trial for the third year in a row on stage five, previously the 'race of truth' had been absent from the event for some time. This year's test will run 26 kilometres from Macerata to Recanati. The classification will likely be stitched-up with the 6.6-kilometre final rise into Piazza Leopardi while the Recanati locals are enjoying their Sunday stroll.
If World Champion Paolo Bettini has not won a stage by this point, stage eight to Castelfidardo will be the day for 'Il Grillo Livornese' thanks to its hammering finale: five times up the 100m-plus rise into Castelfidardo, with the fifth being the finale.
The final day will be a parade lap along the Mar Adriatico and the last chance for the men of Milano-Sanremo to shine. Those who want to win four days later will need to show their wares on this stage finishing in San Benedetto del Tronto. The 176-kilometre stage concludes with eight circuits and a sprint on Viale Buozzi. The street will not be as prestigious as Sanremo's Lungomare Italo Calvino but, nonetheless, it will be hotly contested as a test bed for La Classicissima.
The men to watch for sprint finales are Quick Step's Boonen and Bettini, Barloworld's Baden Cooke and Enrico Gasparotto, Lampre's Alessandro Ballan and Danilo Napolitano, Filippo Pozzato of Liquigas, Oscar Freire of Rabobank, Rockin' Robbie McEwen of Silence-Lotto, the recovering Magnus Backstedt of Slipstream, Mark Cavendish of High Road, CSC's Stuart O'Grady, and Milram duo Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel.
Bettini and Boonen will clean up any stage possible besides the time trail, Cooke and Ballan can handle the hard-man sprint stages as evident from their Eroica heroics, while Pozzato will have full reign if Daniele Bennati is not in top form. Freire, the Spanish three-time World Champion, has always put Tirreno to great use in his lead up to Milano-Sanremo, but expect his form be hard to read – as always. Australians O'Grady and McEwen and Italian Petacchi will round out the top sprinters.
Men for Sunday's time trial are two-time Giro d'Italia Champion, Italian Paolo Savoldelli (LPR Brakes), and Eroica winner and two-time TT World Champ, Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC). Savoldelli could vie for the overall, but his form is still probably developing for the Giro in May.
Men to watch for the final overall will be Bettini, Pozzato, Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Linus Gerdemann (High Road) and Riccardo Riccň (Saunier Duval-Scott). 2005 winner Freire will likely find the parcours too hilly, and the 2006 and 2007 winners, Thomas Dekker (Rabobank) and Andreas Klöden (Astana), are not racing. The defending champion's team was not invited under controversial circumstances.