This weekend will see the further development of two of the early season’s most important, colorfully-nicknamed stage races, Paris-Nice (the Race to the Sun) and Tirreno-Adriatico (the Race of the Two Seas). Conventional wisdom says that Paris-Nice is the race of choice for stage-race specialists, and Tirreno-Adriatico is the race of choice for those developing fitness for the one-day races throughout the rest of March and April.
Paris-Nice wraps up with two hilly stages, each of which offer two Category 1 climbs, two Category 2 climbs, and the potential for the General Classification to remain in flux until the finish line on Sunday. The changing GC began on Thursday’s Stage 5, when Andreas Kloden beat out Samuel Sanchez from a small group when the peloton fractured over a climb with 10k to go. It continued with today’s 27km time trial: Tony Martin, who lost some time to Kloden yesterday, won to take the race lead, with Bradley Wiggins (:20), Richie Porte (:29), Kloden (:46), and Jean-Christophe Peraud (:55) rounding out the top five of the GC. Samuel Sanchez, who started the day :10 back on Kloden, lost time in the time trial and currently sits 1:43 back on the GC. Don’t count Sanchez out just yet – his descending skills will come in handy on this weekend‘s stages. Expect this weekend to see some fireworks as the mountains and some sharp attacks test HTC’s ability to control the race and hold Martin’s lead. RadioShack seems the best positioned to take on HTC, with Kloden looming (at :46) and Levi Leipheimer (1:10) and Janez Brajkovic (1:32) both within striking range of Martin. Wiggins, only 20 seconds back on Martin, is also a threat. With regular speculation about the extent to which he’s suited for Grand Tours, his ability to gain time, rather than just limit losses, will be on trial.
Other riders of interest for top-ten spots include Garmin-Cervelo’s Andrew Talansky, and Cofidis’s Rein Taaramae, both of whom TT’ed well enough to hold on to top-ten spots. Considering that Taaramae had the strength and savvy to make it into the select move that gained time on Stage 5, look for him to make up a few more positions in the days to come.
Meanwhile, Tirreno-Adriatico sees a few lumpy stages for Saturday and Sunday – look for all-arounders to gradually take over top GC positions from the sprinters-with-fitness who have succeeded thus far. Garmin-Cervelo’s Tyler Farrar and Saxo Bank’s JJ Haedo took wins on Stages 2 and 3 while some others, including Mark Cavendish, spending some well-televised time in a “spot of bother.” Andre Greipel pulled out after the TTT on stage 1 due to a warmup crash that caused him to, in his words, “brake with his face,” but there’s still plenty of competition, with Liquigas’s Daniel Oss, Lampre’s Petacchi, HTC’s Renshaw – sprinting capably when Cavendish loses his wheel – and RadioShack’s Robbie McEwen contensting the sprints. Despite losing to Haedo on today’s Stage 3, Farrar looks the strongest, with a very capable Thor Hushovd as his leadoutman. Eyes are on the pair’s developing cooperation – they can be a devasting combination in next weekend’s Milan-San Remo and throughout the spring, and it looks like they’re beginning to click. They’re still fine-tuning, hwoever: Hushovd’s leadout today may have been a bit too dominant. Though he brought Farrar to the front with perfection, his final push through the twisting run-in to the finish left Farrar exposed and unprotected for 15 pedal strokes, forcing him to make a hard effort just prior to his sprint. Burning this extra match made the difference in the race – JJ Haedo was able to accelerate behind Farrar, Oss, Pettacchi, and Renshaw and come around Farrar to win by a bike length.
Farrar still holds the GC lead, but Saturday, Sunday, and Monday each feature some hillier terrain with some steep, short lumps toward the end that might offer attackers an opportunity to gain time late in the stage. With a time trial on Tuesday capping off the race, it’s likely that true all-arounders with enough power to attack on power climbs and defend in the final time trial will fill up the podium.
Join us on Sunday morning at 7:20 AM EST for The Feed Zone, where the Pavé crew offers live commentary and coverage of the final stage of Paris-Nice, and Stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico. Until then, let the speculation flow: who’s best suited to challenge Martin’s lead at Paris-Nice? Who will take over the race lead from Tyler Farrar in Tirreno-Adriatico? Tell us what you’re thinking and who you’re pulling for.