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Will Fabian Cancellara continue his love affair with the flat time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto?

Photo: Trek-Segafredo




15.03.2016 @ 14:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The final road stage turned out to have a much bigger impact on the battle for overall victory than most had expected and while Bob Jungels went into the stage as the favourite for the win, the Luxembourger now finds himself in an uphill battle if he wants to gain enough time on Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. He will try to do so in what is set to be a hugely exciting final time trial where time trial giants Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin will fight it out for the stage win.


The course

In the first part of the century, Tirreno-Adriatico always ended with a flat circuit race along the coast in San Benedetto del Tronto while any time trialing often took place on hillier courses earlier in the race. That script was ended after the 2010 edition when Edvald Boasson Hagen was the last sprinter to win in the coastal city.


The five most recent editions have all ended with a virtually identical time trial on an out-and-back course along the Adriatic Sea in San Benedetto del Tronto and this will again be the case for the 2015 edition. This year's 10km stage is an exact copy of the stage that has been used for the past editions and is completely flat and very non-technical.


The riders take off from the seafront and quickly take a left-hand turn onto the coastal road. From there it is very simple all the way to the finish. The first part is a straight run down the coastal road until the turning point which comes just before the 5km to go mark. Along the way, they pass the time check which will be taken after 4.4km of racing. The riders do a U-turn and then it is straight along the coastal road all the way back to the finish, with just a very slight bend along the way. The last 3km run along wide and mainly straight roads. The route climbs along the seafront (uphill roadway) towards the finish line. 2.5 km before the finish, a double bend leads to the straight home stretch (2,500 m), on 8-m wide asphalted roadway.


With long, flat roads, this is a course for the true specialists who can use their big power to get up to maximum speed and keep it there for their entire ride and it is no wonder that Fabian Cancellara won the two first editions before being beaten into 4th by Tony Martin, Adriano Malori, and Andrey Amador in 2013. In 2014 Adriano Malori took what was then the biggest win of his career when he beat the giants Cancellara, Bradley Wiggins and Martin after a great performance on home soil. Last year Cancellara again came out on top in a battle with Malori who had to settle for second place.





The weather

After a few days in cloudy conditions, the race should have a nice end as Tuesday is forecasted to be a sunny day. However, there will be more clouds late in the afternoon. The maximum temperature will be 12 degrees.


There will be a moderate wind from a northerly direction which means that the riders will first have a tailwind and then a headwind. Importantly, the wind will abate throughout the day which will give an advantage to the later starters.


The favourites

With the GC suddenly an option for the classics riders, they were always going to take the bulls by the horns in the final road stage which suited them really well but few would have expected the lumpy circuit to change things in the way it did. Tinkoff showed great initiative and were nearly rewarded for their efforts with a stage win. They may have missed out in the sprint but their efforts could pay off tomorrow as Peter Sagan moved much closer to the overall win.


BMC must be left with mixed emotions. Tejay van Garderen was their best overall winner candidate but a broken wheel took him out of contention. However, Greg Van Avermaet now finds himself in a much better position than he did 24 hours ago and the American team still have a great shot at the overall victory.


The big losers were Etixx-QuickStep and it’s unbelievable how they could approach this stage with such a poor tactic. When the group went clear, their best GC candidate Bob Jungels had been left behind. Of course Zdenek Stybar was there but the Czech was never going to win the race overall as Van Avermaet and Sagan are much better time triallists. Jungels now finds himself with much more time to make up and the team even threw away a big chance to win a stage as they blew Fernando Gaviria up in the process.


The fight for the overall win is now extremely exciting and it will be a three-horse battle between Van Avermaet, Jungels and Sagan. There is little doubt that Jungels is the best time triallist but he is 21 seconds behind Van Avermaet. It will be hard to take back so much time in a 10km time trial. Last year Van Avermaet lost just 27 seconds to stage winner Cancellara and Jungels is not at Cancellara’s level. At the same time, the Belgian is clearly stronger than he was 12 months ago and even though he is no TT specialist, he has improved his level massively since the start of the 2015 season. Most recently he confirmed his skills on a similarly flat course in Qatar. On paper, it looks like it will be too much for Jungels to take back 21 seconds.


Sagan has a chance. He was 11th in this stage in 2012, the only time he really went full gas. He has mostly taken it relatively easy but obviously he will have a different approach tomorrow. He is not a TT specialist but he is an excellent prologue rider as he can benefit from his technical skills there. He won’t be able to do so on this out-and-back course so it will all come down to the power. He may have won a TT at last year’s Tour of California but that one was very technical. He won’t win this stage but the talented Slovakian may have the power to gain those 8 seconds on Van Avermaet. There is little doubt that the Belgian is the clear favourite but Sagan has a chance.


However, none of those riders will be in the mix for the stage win which is likely to again come down to a battle between Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara. They went head to head in Algarve a few weeks ago where the Swiss came out on top and this will be kind of a revenge match.


Fabian Cancellara has dominated this time trial in the past. He has won three of the five editions and won the stage 12 months ago. It’s no coincidence as he is probably the best rider in the world for short time trials and even though he prefers them to be more technical, this course has always suited him well.


This year Cancellara is evidently better at this time of the season that he has been for several years and there is no reason that he won’t go faster than he did 12 months ago. He had the upper hand over Martin in Algarve where he made the difference in the final part which was all about power. This indicates that he is currently stronger than the German. Furthermore, he has the advantage of starting one hour later than Martin which is important as the wind will abate. Cancellara would love to end his love affair with this time trial by taking a fourth win and we think that he will be able to do so.


His biggest rival will be Tony Martin. The German won this stage in 2013 but has mostly had a hard time here. He came up short in 2014 and last year he skipped the race. It’s no big surprise. The flat nature of the course suits him really well but it is a bit too short to suit him perfectly. He generally needs longer distances to really shine. Furthermore, he is no longer the time triallist he was a few years ago and he is not the dominant time trial figure anymore.


Furthermore, Martin will start earlier than Cancellara and so he has to battle a stronger wind. His form doesn’t seem to be at its peak yet so it will be hard to match the in-form Swiss. However, he remains one of the most powerful riders so it’s not impossible.


Edvald Boasson Hagen has had a hard time in the TTs in recent years but as part of his revival in 2016, he seems to be better than ever. He simply crushed the opposition in Oman on another very flat course over a similar distance. His form doesn’t seem to have become any worse so he should be up there again. This time he will have to ride a TT bike which was not the case in Oman and this may not favour him. Furthermore, the level here is a lot higher. On the other hand, he will start later than both Martin and Cancellara and so have less wind. If he can deliver a ride like he did in Qatar, he could win again.


We are very curious to see what Taylor Phinney can do here. The American was once one of the best time triallists in the world but he hasn’t done many time trials since he returned from his leg injury. He still doesn’t have the resistance in the longer races but he should have the power for a short effort like this. He was reportedly very strong in the TTT and he has the power to match the best. This could be the chance for Phinney to return to his top level in an ITT.


Last year Maciej Bodnar was fifth in this time trial. It came as part of a huge improvement as a time triallist since he joined Tinkoff. While he suffers a bit over the longer distances, he is very strong in shorter time trials and it is no coincidence that he has won the De Panne TT. He was reportedly very strong in the TTT and he seems to have the form to be up there again tomorrow.


Vasil Kiryienka is the reigning world champion but it will be hard for him to win this stage. The Belarusian needs longer distances to really excel. Furthermore, he hasn’t really been close to victory in the two TTs he has done until now. On the other hand, he has done much less work this time around so he should be a bit fresher. He was third in this stage last year so he has proved that he can do well here.


Michal Kwiatkowski had a poor 2015 season and he wasn’t very strong in Strade Bianche. However, he had just come back from illness and it seems like he is now back on track. He was very strong in today’s stage. He is unlikely to win the time trial which is a bit too much about power for a tiny guy like him but he has done well here in the past. He has even won a flat time trial in Algarve where he beat Martin. Today he looked like his former self and tomorrow he could confirm that with a great ride.


Manuel Quinziato suffered in time trials for a few years until he suddenly reached a great level in 2014. Last year he rode poorly but he now seems to be back on track. He was third in Qatar and he generally likes this kind of short, flat courses. He has been extremely strong all year and will be able to do well.


Alex Dowsett is a very powerful rider and should be able to do well here. However, he has never really become the time triallist that some expected when he beat Wiggins in the 2013 Giro. Most recently, he was a bit off the pace in Algarve and he will also have the disadvantage of being an early starter – just like Quinziato and Phinney. He should be in the top 10 but he is unlikely to win.


Stephen Cummings rode at the back of the field until he suddenly came out of nowhere to win stage 4. He is a great time triallist for this kind of stage and was in the top 10 last year. A few years ago he did some amazing rides in short, flat tests but while his climbing has improved he does no longer have the same power here. His form is pretty good even though he has come back from illness so he should be up there again.


Bob Jungels will be more motivated than ever as he has the chance to win overall. He has the advantage of being a late starter and is a clear specialist. However, his TT results have not really been at the level than many expected a few years ago and he has mostly had to settle for minor placings in the top 10. However, added motivation and a late start will bring him far.


Nelson Oliveira was one of the best time triallists as a U23 rider but then he disappeared into anonymity when he turned pro. In the last two years, he has overcome his health issues and he is now stronger than ever. Most recently, he did a very good time trial in Algarve and his form in this race seems to be very good. Unfortunately, the course is a bit too much about power to suit him well.


Tejay van Garderen is no longer in GC contention but he will still be motivated to have a good ride. He proved his TT skills by winning the Ruta del Sol TT and his form is obviously very good. However, he needs a longer and harder course to be in contention for the victory and his morale is likely to have taken a beating.


Finally, we will point to Sagan as a joker. He won’t win the stage but as said he has done good short time trials in the past. His form is clearly on the rise and he will have extra motivation. He is always capable of delivering a surprise and he could do so again tomorrow.


Other contenders include Greg Van Avermaet, Ramunas Navardauskas, Jan Barta, Daniele Bennati, Jesse Sergent, Vincenzo Nibali, Daniel Oss, Jack Bauer, Yves Lampaert, Thibaut Pinot, Johan Le Bon, Stef Clement, Reto Hollenstein, Andrey Amador, Luke Durbridge and Markel Irizar.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Fabian Cancellara

Other winner candidates: Tony Martin, Edvald Boasson Hagen

Outsiders: Taylor Phinney, Maciej Bodnar, Vasil Kiryienka, Michal Kwiatkowski, Manuel Quinziato

Jokers: Alex Dowsett, Stephen Cummings, Bob Jungels, Nelson Oliveira, Tejay van Garderen, Peter Sagan



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