Today’s action at Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice both saw exciting racing. Tyler Farrar won Stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico in a sprint that demonstrated Garmin-Cervelo’s progress with sprint trains. Farrar’s earned solid palmares as a field sprinter, but is more acquainted with the lower steps of the podium – often, somebody is able to get around him, or his leadout fails to adequately protect him in the final few hundred meters. However, the Garmin-Cervelo merger brought together elements to form a fearsome classics and sprint squad, and it seems that they are getting their pieces in working order: Stage 2 saw Thor Hushovd giving Tyler Farrar a pitch-perfect leadout for a win against a field that contains many classics contenders and sprint setups on Leopard-Trek, HTC, Sky, and Lampre.
After positively mugging Baden Cooke’s Saxo attempt to control the front for Bank-Sungard’s JJ Haedo (who then tried to horn in on the rainbow-carrying train), Garmin-Cervelo’s Ramunas Nabardauskas towed the sprint around a soft right hand corner, where Thor Hushovd took up the final role in the leadout. Despite a strong challenge from Sky’s leadout to bring Boasson Hagen to the front, Thor still had gas in the tank to hold them off. In fact, notice at 5:50 in the video that though the yellow-clad Giordani of Farnese Vini is sprinting, and Edvald Boasson Hagen is exposed to the wind trying to grab a bite of Hushovd’s wheel, Tyler Farrar is calmly in the draft, only just about to begin his hard effort that would win him the race.
Sprints favor the patient, and given that, notice that many of those names were overtaken in the final 150 meters of the sprint. Notice, also, Alessandro Petacchi, who finished second after a strong late surge. In the replay, at 6:50 of the video, Petacchi is still 7 wheels back – in the “danger zone” for sprinters, too-easily boxed in or too far back to contend the sprint. Petacchi, though, knows his way around a field sprint, and he surfs his way around blown, impatient sprinters, navigates around peeling-off leadout men, for an impressive late surge into the sprint.
Farrar’s victory is a nice indication of his form and power prior to Milan-San Remo, but we can’t help but ask: is there friction on the horizon? Will Hushovd and Farrar be content to split their kills, and if so – for how long?
At Paris-Nice, the start of the hilly days brought a shake up to the General Classification. A final climb just 10k from the line offered opportunists the chance to seize a bull by the horns, and eight riders gained a twenty-second lead over the fracturing peloton. Though in their fatigue they looked uncommitted to their escape, the eight held their advantage to the line and offered fans the entertaining spectacle of climbers sprinting to the line, with RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden beating Euskatel’s Samuel Sanchez by a bike throw.
The result was a thorough restructuring of the General Classification as the climbers took the reigns from the sprinters and breakaway men; in fact, the only member of the top 20 after Stage 4 to remain in the top 20 after Stage 5 was Andreas Klöden, who took over the leader’s jersey. Indeed, the fact that he kept himself well within striking distance through the first four stages suggests that he’s got his eyes on the overall, and raced smart enough to not lose precious time early on. Can Radioshack keep the leader’s jersey on his shoulders all the way to Nice? With a time trial and two more days in the mountains, it’s still wide open. HTC, who brought the powerful Tony Martin/Tejay Van Garderen combination, will threaten, as Martin is only :10 back on Klöden. Other challengers include Samuel Sanchez, who was clearly disappointed to miss out on the stage win today, and Jurgen Van den Broeck, who is only :29 back on Klöden. And I wouldn’t write off Sky’s Michael Rogers/Bradley Wiggins combo just yet. The stages ahead should be exciting.
Given the current status of the Paris-Nice General Classification, who’s your pick for the overall when it’s all said and done?