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Will Gaviria win the first WorldTour sprint he has ever contested?

Photo: Tim De Waele




10.03.2016 @ 19:27 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Zdenek Stybar proved his class by delivering almost an exact copy of what he did at last year’s Tour de France and can now look forward to spending at least two days in the leader’s jersey. After two days of waiting, the sprinters will be eager to battle it out in the relatively flat third stage but a small little climb inside the final kilometre can make it tough going for some of the fast guys.


The course

For once, there was no room for the sprinters on the first road stage but they should get the chance to test their legs for Milan-Sanremo on the third day. However, the organizers never make things too easy for the fast guys and have included some climbing along the way and a tough little uphill section in the final kilometre.


The 176km starts in Castelnuovo Val di Cecina and brings the riders to Montalto di Castro. It’s a long run down the Tyrrhenian coast but the riders won’t spend the day riding along the seafront. Instead, they will stay in the interior of the country as they head in a southeasterly direction and so the terrain is pretty hilly. The route follows the constant undulations that lead through the geothermal area, across Sasso Pisano, Monterotondo Marittimo and Massa Marittima where the first intermediate sprint is located after 34.2km of racing. Here the road will flatten out and the route heads south, towards the Maremma, reaching Grosseto where the second sprint is located after 84.6km of racing. Then it is time for the only categorized climb to Scansano (16.7km, 3.0%, max. 8%) which is followed by a long descent and another climb to Manciano. A very long easy section follows, descending slightly all the way to the finish line in Montalto di Castro.


The final part of route first runs slightly downhill, followed by a short climb (with 3-4% gradients) with 750m to go, leading to the heart of the city. The home straight starts here after the riders have followed a long, slightly winding road for several kilometres. It features just a mild bend with 350m to go and still runs slightly uphill (with gradients of 2-3%) on asphalt road.


Montalto di Castro has not hosted a stage finish for more than a decade.





The weather

It looks like Tirreno-Adriatico will live up to its reputation as the race to do if you want to have the best chance of good weather. Friday will get off to a sunny start with a maximum temperature of 15 degrees. However, it will be cloudier in the afternoon and there is even a 25% chance that the riders will be hit by a shower.


It will be windier than usual as there will be a moderate wind from a northeasterly direction. This means that will be a cross-tailwind almost all day. In the finale, it will be a tailwind until the riders will turn into a crosswind with 1500m to go.


The favourites

Yesterday we made Zdenek Stybar one of our favourites for stage 2. That kind of technical finale was tailor-made for the former cyclo-cross world champion and he proved us right by delivering a real masterpiece in Pomarance. The finale was pretty similar to stage 6 at last year’s Tour de France and back then he did exactly the same by using a moment of hesitation at the top of the final climb to make a successful solo move. This has become a bit of a trademark for Stybar who confirms that he is destined to have an excellent classics season.


Stybar now even contemplates going for GC in this race. That’s probably not possible as Monte San Vicino should be too hard but no one can deny that he is in excellent condition. While Stybar makes up his mind, we can delete Domenico Pozzovivo and Joaquim Rodriguez from the list of contenders. The latter was caught up in a crash while we still don’t know whether the former’s time loss was due to bad luck or bad legs.


The GC battle will be on hold tomorrow when the sprinters should get one of their two chances to shine. The stage is by no means flat but the final climbs come so far from the finish that the fast guys will eye an opportunity in a race that doesn’t leave too much to them.


As the stage is likely to be firmly controlled, we should have another less stressful start. The break is likely to go from the gun and then it will be the usual scenario. The wildcard teams will enjoy some time in the spotlight while Etixx-QuickStep will be patrolling the front.


It will be interesting to see how much help they will get. Dimension Data are here with Mark Cavendish but he was clearly suffering in today’s stage where he reached the finish with Mark Renshaw more than 20 minutes behind Stybar. He is clearly not accustomed to road racing yet so the South African team may leave it to Etixx-QuickStep to do the work. However, there are lots of sprinters in this race and if the situation gets dangerous, we can expect Trek, Lampre-Merida, Sky and Bora-Argon 18 to come to the fore. Hence, the break won’t have any chance of success.


The two climbs could come into play. They are far from the finish but last year Tinkoff set up Peter Sagan for a stage win in a similar stage by dropping most of the really fast guys on a climb at a similar distance from the line. The categorized climb probably comes too early but the uncategorized ascent could be an opportunity for Tinkoff to up the pace. It seems like it’s a 3-4& climb so it’s not very hard but it may be enough to distance Cavendish and maybe Elia Viviani who is also coming from the track and hasn’t done much climbing recently.


In any case, we will get some kind of sprint. The finale is not complicated from a technical point of view but the uphill final kilometre will have an impact. A 4% ramp is not a big issue for sprinters – Cavendish has won much harder sprints in the past – but it will certainly tip the balance slightly in favour of the stronger sprinters.


Tomorrow will be the day when Fernando Gaviria will get the chance to do a WorldTour sprint for the first time in his life and we see no reason that he can’t get it off to a winning start. The Colombian has proved that he can beat everyone. He beat Cavendish in San Luis last year and he got the better of Greipel in the Tour of Britain.


Gaviria is also coming from the track but he is a much more versatile rider than Cavendish and Viviani. In fact, he is a great climber and he will only benefit from the fact that it’s a hard stage with an uphill finish. There is no doubt that he has the speed to beat everybody and the form looked very good in the team time trial where he took massive turns.


Furthermore, he is supported by an excellent lead-out. He has the power of Tony Martin and Bob Jungels and Matteo Trentin as the final lead-out man. That makes it one of the best trains here and should make sure that he is a in a good position for the sprint. Gaviria is our favourite to win.


Gaviria will be up against another sprinting sensation. Caleb Ewan is ready to prove himself in Europe after his great start in Australia. He rode impressively on the climbs in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne to prove that the form is still excellent. He has proved that he has the speed to beat almost everyone, most notably in last year’s Vuelta. In the Spanish race, he beat John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan in a much harder uphill sprint and the rising finishing straight should favour the tiny Ewan. The main challenge for Ewan will be the positioning but with Jens Keukeleire and Luka Mezgec for the lead-out he will be well-supported. This could be a great duel between Ewan and Gaviria.


Giacomo Nizzolo has been flying all year. He was really strong in Dubai where he narrowly missed out on overall victory. He was equally strong in the team time trial and he will be ready to strike in this stage. He is a solid climb and should easily overcome the climbs and he will find the uphill finale to his liking. Most importantly, he has a very strong lead-out with Fabian Cancellara, Marco Coledan and Jasper Stuyven. This stage looks great for Nizzolo and he clearly has the form to finally take that big win on home soil.


Peter Sagan was left frustrated in today’s stage as Oscar Gatto failed to bring Stybar back. Now he will target victory in tomorrow’s stage. The easier, less technical finale doesn’t suit him as well and usually he is not fast enough to win a flat stage. However, the uphill finishing straight will give him a much better chance and with a fantastic lead-out of Daniele Bennati, Oscar Gatto and Adam Blythe, it may finally be time to win in the rainbow jersey.


Of course Mark Cavendish has to be mentioned as a potential winner. Everybody knows how fast he is and Dimension Data are here with a formidable train. However, he looked really poor in today’s stage where he was the only rider to suffer on the first climb and as said, he was last in the stage. If this had been a flat stage, his lack of road racing would be no issue but in this tough stage it will be hard for him to win. However, you can never rule the fast Manxman out.


Elia Viviani was clearly much stronger than Cavendish but he is also coming off the track. It remains to be seen whether he has the form to handle this kind of tough stage. There is no doubt that he has the speed to win – also in an uphill finish – but there are several challenges to overcome. He doesn’t have a great lead-out either and he is usually not good at positioning.


Sam Bennett is definitely one of the fastest riders here and he proved in Qatar and Oman that he is getting stronger and stronger. Hence, this hard stage should actually suit him. However, he always fails to stay with his train in the finale and that’s a big problem that he has to solve quickly. Furthermore, he was ill in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne so it remains to be seen whether he has recovered.


Sacha Modolo should find the uphill finish to his liking and he has been riding really well this year. However, his many wins in 2015 were more due to Maximilano Richeze’s lead-outs than his own speed. The Argentinean will be missed and we doubt that Modolo is fast enough to win here.


Last year Jens Debusschere won the first sprint and he will be keen to repeat that performance. He can count on Jurgen Roelandts to lead him out and he will benefit from the hard course and the uphill finishing straight. However, there are faster riders in this race.


Moreno Hofland is very similar to Debusschere and also prefers sprints that are slightly uphill. The Dutchman has been sprinting well this year and LottoNL-Jumbo have done a lot of work to improve the lead-out. He has Tom Van Asbroeck as valuable support but we don’t think that he is fast enough to win.


Finally, we will point to Leigh Howard. The Australian is reinvigorated after joining IAM. He won the Clasica Almeria and was second in the Cadel Evans Race and today he almost made it into the front group. He is climbing better than ever and this will make him a contender in this hard stage. IAM have a good lead-out but he is probably not fast enough to win.


For more sprinters, keep an eye on Ramunas Navardasukas, Jempy Drucker, Davide Vigano, Sonny Colbrelli, Sebastien Torgot, Pello Bilbao, Simone Ponzi, Marco Haller, Nikias Arndt and Zico Waeytens. If it’s too hard for Cavendish, Edvald Boasson Hagen will get his chance and Greg Van Avermaet may also go for it in an uphill finish like this.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Fernando Gaviria

Other winner candidates: Caleb Ewan, Giacomo Nizzolo

Outsiders: Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani, Sam Bennett

Jokers: Sacha Modolo, Jens Debusschere, Moreno Hofland, Leigh Howard



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