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While giving live updates from the Paris-Nice stage, we will keep you updated on the action from the queen stage of Tirreno-Adriatico on

Photo: Jacinto Vidarte


15.03.2014 @ 20:38 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alberto Contador stamped his authority on the race's queen stage and clearly proved that he is the strongest rider in the race. However, he still needs to take time on Michal Kwiatkowski ahead of the final time trial and his only chances comes tomorrow in what will be brutal affair. The stage ends with a climb up Italy's steepest road on the Muro di Guardiagrele and the 30% gradients are set to produce a thrilling end to an exciting stage.


The course

The climbers have one final opportunity to gain some time in Sunday's fifth stage which has a truly spectacular finish. The stage continues the southeasterly journey as the riders head from Amatrice over 192km to the finish in Guardiagrele. That city is located very close to the coast just a few kilometres south of Chieti which has hosted an exciting finish on a brutal wall in the past few editions. In general, this part of the country is characterized by many short, brutally steep climbs - just recall the epic penultimate stage of last year's race or the rain-soaked Giro stage to Pescara - and this should be an indication for the riders about what is to come at the end of the stage.


The start is a tough one as the riders head up a tough 8km uncategorized climb  right from the beginning but from there the first part of the stage is rather easy. A long, flat stretch is followed by a short climb and then a long downhill, more flat roads, and an uncategorized climb that leads to the feed zone at the 90.5km mark.


From there the gradual downhill run continues all the way to the 141.6km mark where the roads start to climb slightly. On those ascending roads, the two intermediate sprints come in quick succession, 45.5km and 40.1km from the finish respectively.


The final one signals the start of the day's major climb, Passo Lanciano (11.3km, 8.3%, max. 13%) which is a very tough one. With the steepest section coming early on, it has a rather constant gradient around 9%, only briefly interrupted by a small plateau at the midpoint. The final 1.5km are slightly easier at 7.8% but this is probably the hardest climb of the entire race.


At the top, only 28.9km remain and they mostly consist of a long technical descent that ends just 12.5km from the finish. The riders now do a small uncategorized climb that precede the brutal finish. Its short and very technical descent ends 3km from the finish where the riders turn left and the final ascent begins. As said, this part of Italy is known for its many brutal walls - short, immensely steep climbs - and the Tirreno organizers have always liked to host stage finishes on them. This year they have found a real beast which makes its debut in a major bike race.


The first 1.6km are easy as they only have a gradient of 5.5% but they lead to the base of the Muro di Guardiagrele. It is 610m long, with an average gradient of a massive 22.2% and peaks of 30% in the first part and around 29% in the last bend. After the Muro, 800m remain. The downhill course features a short stretch of apparently flat ground along straight roads, followed by a U-turn, which leads to the home stretch (avg. gradient around 9%, with peaks of 12%). The distance from the last bend to the finish line is around 250 m on asphalted roadway. The width of the finish is 5.5 m.






The weather

When we wrote our overall preview for this race a few days ago, the weather forecasts predicted rain for Sunday's stage and the prospect of riding the 30% gradients of the Muro on wet roads must have been a cause for concern for many. They will be glad to learn that the meteorologists have changed their minds and the weather forecast is now almost a copy of what we have seen in recent days.


It will be another day with beautiful sunshine, with the temperatures in the valley reaching a pleasant maximum of 17 degrees. There will be a light wind from a northern direction, meaning that the riders will have a tailwind and a cross-tailwind in the early part of the stage. The riders then face a section with cross-headwind before the Lanciano on which they will have a cross-tailwind. It will be a cross-headwind on the descent and a tailwind for the final part of the stage. On the Muro, there will be a crosswind while there will be a tailwind and a crosswinds until the final turn that leads into a headwind for the short finishing straight.


The favourites

After today's amazing showing, there should no longer be any doubt that Alberto Contador is currently the best climber in the race. However, he it still 16 seconds behind Michal Kwiatkowski in GC and he needs to take back even more time than that as he will lose some time in the final time trial.


The only change comes tomorrow and his confidence will have been greatly boosted by today's result. Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte will also still have ambitions to move up and none of them can allow an early break to ride away with the bonus seconds. Hence, the early escapees will be doomed even before they have taken off as Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo, or Movistar will make sure that they are brought back.


Kwiatkowski has often proved that he handles shorter climbs really well but today it was again underlined that he can't match the best on the long ones. The Muro may be steep but it is a short affair and Kwiatkowski will hope that he arrives rather fresh at the bottom.


There is little doubt that his rivals want to avoid that scenario and so we can expect Tinkoff-Saxo or Movistar to ride hard on the Larciano. As there is a long descent and some undulating terrain before the Muro, we doubt that any of the major favourites will go on the attack this early but they will make sure to set a fierce tempo that will discourage any aggressive racing and wear down Kwiatkowski. Tinkoff-Saxo may even use the same tactics as they did today by sending Roman Kreuziger up the road, forcing Omega Pharma-Quick Step to do the hard riding instead of Tinkoff-Saxo themselves.


However, we expect things to be back together by the time they reach the Muro and so it will all be decided on those brutal slopes. As the climb is a short one, the time gaps won't be massive and the main riders will all finish within a minute of each other but as the GC is rather close small gaps should be enough for the lead to change hands.


This finish suits a certain type of riders and would have been a real treat for Joaquim Rodriguez who specializes in these kind of stages, if he had been in attendance. It may not necessarily be the same riders that excel on the Muro as the ones that came to the fore in today's stage.


Nonetheless, Alberto Contador must be the favourite to win the stage. Today he proved that he is the strongest climber and it will all come down to climbing skills on the Muro. He may not have scored his best results on very steep climbs but he has always been one of the best even when it gets very steep. As he almost appeared to be at ease in the finale of today's stage, we would expect him to drop his rivals on the Muro and take both the stage and the leader's jersey.


We openly admit that we had underestimated Nairo Quintana in today's stage. The Colombian has taken a massive leap forward since his poor showings in Murcia and Roma Maxima and today he was clearly only matched by Contador when it came to climbing skills. Tomorrow's steeper climb may even suit him a bit better than they suit Contador. In his heydays, Contador was not his superior self when the road got ridiculously steep - just recall how he failed to win on the Monte Zoncolan in the 2011 Giro d'Italia where he was otherwise in a class of his own - and Quintana may benefit from his tiny stature. Quintana has the right kind of explosiveness to excel in this finish and the tables could be turned compared to today's stage.


Like his teammate Rodriguez, Daniel Moreno excels on short, steep climbs to the finish. He has proved that several times, most recently in last year's Vuelta where he won on the steep climb in Valdepenas de Jaen and in last year's Fleche Wallonne where he won on the Mur de Huy. Today he proved great condition by performing well on a long climb that is usually not his forte. In the end, he made one of his trademark accelerations to pass several riders and take third.


Moreno is probably the greatest specialist in this kind of finishes among the riders in this race and he could put in a fierce acceleration of the Muro. If he is with Contador and Quintana - or has dropped them - after the top, he should be very difficult to beat in an uphill sprint on the final steep section to the line.


Today Domenico Pozzovivo performed a bit below expectations after his excellent showing in the recent Roma Maxima but the Italian has always struggled a bit on non-steep, long climbs. Tomorrow he gets into the right kind of terrain where he can make use of his excellent skills on very steep gradients. Actually, he is also rather explosive in this kind of finishes and he could emerge as the strongest rider on the Muro. If he can find back the legs, he had when he dropped Alejandro Valverde on the very steep Annibale climb in Roma Maxima, he should be up there.


Richie Porte was clearly one of the strongest riders in today's stage but his steady, fast pace was not enough to get rid of Quintana and Contador. The fact that he led the peloton for more than a kilometre completely on his own shows that he is going well and he will again be up there tomorrow. However, this kind of explosive finish doesn't suit him too well and it is hard to imagine that he will win tomorrow's stage. He lacks the acceleration and the sprint that is needed in this kind of stage. On the other hand, he is an excellent climber in great condition and with drafting playing less of a role tomorrow, he may benefit more from the great condition he showed today.


Michal Kwiatkowski clearly struggled in today's stage but tomorrow's route should suit him much better. Last year he was 5th in the Fleche Wallonne which proves that he knows how to handle short steep climbs. This may be a little bit too steep to his liking and it will be difficult for him to keep up with the best. Furthermore, the Muro comes after a big climb that will have taken the sting out of his legs and at the end of a stage race where recovery plays a bigger role. If he can limit his losses, however, he may benefit from the final 600m to get back in contention and he has a fast sprint on the final shot uphill stretch to the line.


Finally, we will select our joker. Today Julian Arredondo struggled but this was to be expected as he is no pure climber. Instead, he is an explosive, punchy guy who excels in this kind of finishes. When he won two stages in the Tour de San Luis, he was stronger than Quintana in the two stages that ended on short, steep climbs while he lost a lot of time on the one that ended with a long one. For him to finish15th today was a fine performance and tomorrow he will benefit much more from his explosive nature. Look out for the Trek jersey when the going gets tough on the Muro.


CyclingQuotes' stage winner pick: Alberto Contador

Other winner candidates: Nairo Quintana, Daniel Moreno

Outsiders: Domenico Pozzovivo, Richie Porte, Michal Kwiatkowski

Joker: Julian Arredondo



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