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On Wednesday 9th March, the 46th edition of the Tirreno-Adriatico will begin; seven days of fantastic racing including a team TT, individual TT, some BIG climbing stages and some fast flat stages make it a very real preview to the Grand Tours and a proper alternative to the Paris-Nice.  The start list is pretty amazing too.  There are some big guns currently firing in the Paris-Nice, but in Italy, Cuddles, Cancellara, Andy Schleck, Hushovd, Nibali, Cavendish and Gilbert are just some of the riders who’ll be going head to head.  So let’s take a look at the stages of this ‘mini’ Grand Tour, our PBK recommended wine to watch the race with and then the riders and teams.

The Route.

Stage one starts and finishes in the town of Marina di Carrara with a 16.8km Team Time Trial.  Pretty much dead-pan flat, this will be a nice warm up to the week of riding ahead and a chance to see how the teams are riding this year.  Watch out for Liquigas, often strong in the TTT they’ve got Basso, Nibali and Oss in what’s a pretty strong side.

Tuscany is really quite beautiful.

On Stage two the riders leave the western coast of Tuscany on a long (well it looks that way to us!) journey to Italy’s Adriatic Coast.  From Carrara to Indicatore the riders will cover 202km in what is expected to be a relatively fast stage thanks to its relatively flat profile.  Stage two and three offer probably the best chances for sprinters as they’re both relatively flat fast stages, so expect to see teams jostling for position to get their men in contention.  Some big names in the sprinting world are in Italy for the Tirreno-Adriatico as we will see, so you can expect what little opportunities there are to be hotly contested.  Stage three is pretty much a repeat of day two, riders will cover 189km from Terranuova Bracciolini to Perugia, a nice warm up for the climbing which follows.

On stage four we’ll see the strong all-rounders and consistent climbers move to the fore.  Starting in Narni, the stage is 240km long and has both the 990 metre Sella di Corno and a tricky uphill finish into Chieti.  These climbs on such a long day could well combine to create a big split in the group if riders aren’t careful.

Stage five takes the riders from Chieto to Castelraimondo.  Another stage of 240km, riders will tackle the fearsome Sasso Tetto.  With a near 1000 metre height gain, if you’re suffering, today could be the day you get dropped out the back of the peloton.  Stage five holds the potential for a breakaway, those feeling strong may try and drop the peloton on the slopes of Sasso Tetto, the summit of which is 85km from the finish line.  But if the peloton stays together, there’s also the potential for a sprint finish, time will tell.

Yes, those are quite large hills! The main peak on stage 5 is a near 1000m height change.

After two hard days of climbing stage six takes riders from Ussita to Macerata.  178km long, the stage will finish by climbing the Maddonna del Monte three times as part of two final 2.5km laps round the narrow, cobbled streets of Macerata.  With gradients of 18%, these climbs will feel pretty brutal, it’ll favour the strong riders like Gilbert, Ballan and world champion (and office favourite) Thor Hushovd among others.

The final stage is a 9.3km individual time trial around San Benedetto del Tronto.  Pancake flat, it’ll be interesting to see if Cancellara is as untouchable this year as he was last, but there are plenty of strong TT’ers around so it will be hotly contested.  One thing is for sure, this race is going to be an amazing opener and preview for the Milan-San Remo next weekend and an interesting early preview for Grand Tour form!

PBK Wine Recommendation.

A new feature in the PBK Race Preview, we think a nice glass of wine is a crucial part of enjoying a race.  The Tuscan region of Italy provides an awful lot of choice, so we’ve narrowed our choice down to recommend a wine from a small town about 40km west of Perugia called Montepulciano.

The vineyards of Montepulciano, anything that comes from here must be nice.

Vino Nobile de Montepulciano comes from the Tuscan hill town of Montepulciano.  Made predominantly from Sangiovese grapes, it is a dark, rich red wine with a complex flavour.  Having been aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is a perfect accompaniment to red meat, game and strong cheese thanks to its rounded and velvety feel on the palate.  A good example can be bought for between £10 – £20, so although it’s a treat, it won’t break the bank.

A glass or two would be perfect at this time of year, it can often be quite chilly in the northern hemisphere by the time you get to sit down and watch the race!  For those of you in warmer climes, why not have a glass (or two!) with a nice steak and salad in the garden. 


Teams and Riders.

There are some very strong teams heading to this years Race to the Sea, its format has made it more like a ‘mini’ Grand Tour than ever plus it is the perfect preparation for the Milan-San Remo next weekend (Although we’re pretty sure we’d need a month off, IF we even finished!).  There’s a fair chance the teams you’ll see here will not be too far removed from the Grand Tour line-ups.  Let’s take a look at the teams and riders:

Leopard Trek.

Leopard Trek have brought out Fabian Cancellara, who will most definitely have his sights on the two time trials, Andy Schleck and sprinter Daniel Bennati.  Dominic Klemme and Bennati, the only riders so far to get results, will also be riding so this could be the race that Leopard Trek come good.  Nygaard will certainly be hoping so, we

Boasson Hagen winning stage 7 at the 2010 race.

imagine he’ll be itching to get those boxes of celebration scarves out…

Team Sky.

Like the ugly duckling, Team Sky appear to be coming good.  Greg Henderson’s fantastic win yesterday with Geraint Thomas top lead out shows that this team is starting to realise its potential and get in the game.  They’ve a strong squad coming to Italy; Flecha, Hayman, Boasson Hagen and Sutton have all had good starts to the season and they should be able to mix it up very nicely – this could well be the squad to watch, you heard it here first!

Team RadioShack.

This year the ‘Shack are improving rapidly, strong results in the Vuelta a Andalucia and a 1-2-3 at the Three days of West Flanders show that this team is really beginning to come good.  Robbie McEwen, Popovych, Gregory Rast and Sebastien Rosseler make up a team which will hopefully deliver McEwen to the sprints able to contest.

Team Garmin-Cervelo.

World Champion Thor Hushovd will be looking to put the hammer down.

We really liked the Cervelo Test Team and everything they stood for, so it’s exciting to see a squad lined up under the Garmin-Cervelo name.  World Champion Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar (who we believe has recovered from the knee injury), Andreas Klier and David Millar make up a strong team.  Expect to see Millar take the lead in the TT, while if Thor’s interview back in December 2010 is to be believed, he may act as a ‘super domestique’ to Farrer in the stages with sprint finishes.  Either way, this team with their variation on the seemingly ubiquitous blue, white and black kit (although they did bring theirs out before the scarf wearers), are likely to prove interesting.

HTC – Highroad.

We see the return of the Cavendish/Renshaw partnership at the Tirreno-Adriatico in a squad which also includes the talented Hayden Roulston.  HTC-Highroad will be out to deliver Cav to the finish line first, it was here in 2009 that Farrar beat Cav for the first time, so they’ll be trying to avoid a repeat.  With the likes of Boonen, Farrar, Greipel and some other big name sprinters riding the pressure will be on the HTC-Highroad lead out train.

BMC.

Cadel, watch out for him fixing you with his stare.

BMC are bringing Cuddles (Cadel Evans), the legendary George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan to the Italian party.  Between the three of them they know how to suffer, so expect to see them dishing out the pain to the peloton.  Cadel Evans is a tour favourite, so his performance could be telling, remember it’s still early in the season though!

Other people to keep an eye on include Omega Pharma-Lotto; with Gilbert and Greipel they have to fancy their chances both in the sprint finishes but also on the big climbing days.  Stage six should give Gilbert the opportunity to show his form.  Boonen and Quickstep have also had a good start to the season so expect to see them working to get him to the front.  Rabobank’s Oscar Freire got two wins at the Ruta del Sol and will be preparing to go for a fourth victory at Milan-San Remo.

So there we go, a look at the route and some of the teams and riders taking part in the 2011 Tirreno-Adriatico.  Have you got any hot tips?  Who do you think is worth watching?  One thing is for sure we’ll be keeping a close eye on proceedings here at PBK Towers!

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