Why Have So Many Stars Gone to Tirreno-Adriatico?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Tirreno Adriatico trophy Sea Master

It had all been looking so good for Tirreno-Adriatico. The “fantastic four” of Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana were supposed to clash for the first time together in a stage race only for Froome to fall ill, while we were promised a sprint royale between Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish but the German’s got a virus. Still even in the absence of Froome and Kittel the Italian stage race has a stellar startlist that trumps Paris-Nice by a variety of metrics, whether sheer anticipation or the cold logic of UCI points. Why?

Tirreno-Adriatico has evolved as a race, for years the route wasn’t too remarkable but of late RCS have tried to include more spectacular finishes and have added some ski station summit finishes. It’s become a mini Giro d’Italia with mountain-top finishes, time trials and other adaptations to suit stage race specialists. This has attracted the big grand tour names but glance at the list of winners and it’s only since Cadel Evans in 2011 that the list correlates with the famous names of grand tour glory. So the race has become an alternative to Paris-Nice by adopting a comparative route.

The route too plays a part in other ways as Tirreno-Adriatico offers more for more riders. The opening two stages of this year’s Paris-Nice have been a bore to watch as the race crosses featureless roads between Paris and central France. A spiky finish a top a short climb might prompt a few more puncheurs to start.

Some riders say Paris-Nice is a stressful race, the opening stages can be flat but if the crosswinds are blowing then there’s a fight for position while Tirreno can be more formulaic, the moment the race was won is usually in the set-piece time trials and summit finishes. There’s more media coverage of Paris-Nice too, Italy offers relatively quieter prep for now too.

Some riders have short-term objectives and Tirreno-Adriatico allows those aiming for Milan-Sanremo to get a harder ride closer to the race. The Italian race finishes on a Tuesday, less of a gap until Milan-Sanremo but enough time to recover. Tirreno-Adriatico also has longer stages, typically the race has one long “Sanremo” stage so that riders can the feel of the distance.

Longer-term objectives come into play too. If you want to win the Giro then racing in Italy helps a little, you learn the feel of the roads, to spot the warning signs used by the race and to handle Italian press conferences. Similarly Vincenzo Nibali rode Paris-Nice last year to get some extra experience in France. This notion won’t alone explain Contador’s presence in Tirreno-Adriatico but it’s a factor on the list.

The weather is a factor. Paris-Nice is “the race to the sun” yet the key word is the preposition, “to” the sun on the Côte d’Azur. In recent years Paris-Nice has seen glacial stages and riders with bigger objectives in mind will want to avoid the harsh conditions. Not that Tirreno-Adriatico basks in glorious sunshine, the inland stages can be very cold too, it’s more that on average you expect Tirreno-Adriatico to be warmer.

Business is another factor. Tirreno-Adriatico is owned by RCS who also own the Giro and Paris-Nice is owned by ASO who also own the Tour de France. Since many top names build their season around the Tour de France this is a chance to shine some limelight on an RCS event and give the Italian organiser a boost. Tirreno-Adriatico has been suffering financially and support for the race helps it and RCS.

Does appearance money count? We don’t know is the simple answer but I understand RCS has paid riders and teams for the Giro in the past.

Fashions and routines count as well. If you’ve tried one race a few times then why not do something different? Here there’s no driving factor, just the sake of change.

When I saw the “fantastic four” were going there, the first thing I said was “shit”
– Christian Prudhomme, L’Equipe, 8 March 2015

Merde said Christian Prudhomme. You can sympathise but it’s up to him and his colleagues to do something rather than wait for the startlist to come out, it hints at passivity.

Update: Another reason could be the course announcement, as suggested by friend of the blog Manuel Pérez Díaz. RCS announce the route months in advance which gives teams plenty of time to prepare whereas ASO only announce the route in February. In 2014 Sky provisionally entered “defending champion” Richie Porte only to later see the route announced which didn’t suit the Tasmanian so he went to Italy instead.

Finally the two races are in opposition because of the calendar clash. Having two similar World Tour events on at the same time forces riders to choose. They’re not alone as sections of the media must decide which race to cover while fans too have to follow two races. Channel-hopping is easy if you can get both races on TV but reading two sets of stories and more is confusing. Ideally there’d be no clash but it’s not as easy as you’d think. Neither race can go back much earlier on the calendar as it would be colder and neither can moved forward either otherwise they’d clash with Milan-Sanremo. You could have Milan-Sanremo on the Sunday, finish Tirreno-Adriatico on a Wednesday and then run Paris-Nice a whole week earlier. But just because two races don’t overlap doesn’t mean everyone would ride both, many star riders would look at a premature Paris-Nice and avoid it because of the cold weather. Then again if every race saw the same top riders race each other the risk is repetition.

Conclusion
Tirreno-Adriatico has a constellation of star riders. This is new as for years Paris-Nice was the premium event, now the French event stagnates although it’s relative, the likes of Michał Kwiatkowski, Tony Martin, Tom Boonen, Alexander Kristoff, Philippe Gilbert and many more hardly mean everyone’s sent Team B to France.

There’s no one reason to explain why RCS has assembled a better field than ASO but a mix of the elements listed above help to explain why the Fantastic Four and others opted for Italy.

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Netserk March 10, 2015 at 6:32 pm

Ideally the two races continues to clash. It has forced Tirreno to up their game, and generally I do think competition is healthy. The route is the primary difference. With a HC MTF, a TTT (planned), an ITT and some hills as well, it is the perfect race to attract the GT contenders. I think many teams were looking forward to test their TTT with their captain in it. I also think Strade Bianche helps attract some of the classics names.

Netserk March 10, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Besides, the pro peloton (>500 riders) is big enough for at least two races to run simultaneously. If there only was one of them, teams would have to compromise between getting their classics team in shape (pretty much every classics winner in the spring races one of them) and letting their GC captains have an early target with sufficient support.

ArgyllFlyer March 14, 2015 at 12:42 pm

A colleague with a passing interest in the sport asked me which one to watch. Making people choose is daft if you’re trying to grow the sport’s popularity.

Anonymous March 10, 2015 at 6:38 pm

Nice one

Andrew E March 10, 2015 at 6:55 pm

Maybe its just me but I think the answer here is pretty simple and anyone watching the last two days “racing” would maybe agree with me: the race is boring because there just isn’t that much interesting terrain between Paris and Nice. Endless flat stages with a couple of breakaway riders everyone knows will be caught (and so they all go REALLY slow so as not to catch them too soon) does not make a great race or give riders the test that they need if preparing for cobbled classics or as a build up to the Giro.

If I was one of the top contenders for anything I would view the much more testing racing at Tirreno as better than a slow meander down to Nice. If Paris-Nice don’t want this to continue they need to find ways to make their parcours more challenging.

gabriele March 10, 2015 at 10:31 pm

This is quite superficial. You can draw interesting stages more or less wherever, and, anyway, I recall three or four very thrilling edition in the last 8-9 years.

The Inner Ring March 10, 2015 at 10:37 pm

It’s up to the organisers. Take tomorrow’s stage in Paris-Nice between St Amand Montrond and Saint-Pourçain… in 2013 the Tour de France they did it in the bus, the race arrived in St Amand for one stage and then started the next day from Saint-Pourçain. Paris-Nice can have two stages for the sprinters and then hit the hillier stuff, geographically it’s possible. But of course it depends on who is bidding for the stage starts/finishes etc, easier said than done.

Anonymous March 11, 2015 at 4:40 am

They should just do longer flat stages. Not only you get to the south faster, you have less racing stress, and more kms in your legs.

Anonymous March 10, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Not surprised the Organiser not happy finding out via social media that Froome had withdrawn (for the second year running). You would have thought some Sky admin staffer would have let him know straight away. Bad form I say and that not just the chest area.

BC March 10, 2015 at 8:57 pm

The road south in France is not necessarily flat. Try a few days in the generally wet Massif Central in March if you don’t agree. The weather question is as unpredictable as always. Tirreno has taken the first hit this year, with high winds causing the first stage to be modified. Who knows what could happen next year !

I think there is still room for two events, the races and riders themselves will decide in the final analysis which turns out to be the most exciting.

That Prudhomme will have to consider his response to the apparent decline in the popularity of Paris – Nice, can only be good for the development of the sport. Something those pushing for rationalization would be well advised to consider.

J Evans March 10, 2015 at 9:48 pm

Last year’s parcours made for far more interesting racing.

gabriele March 10, 2015 at 10:24 pm

Having watched both races, I wouldn’t say that.

Paris-Nice offered three entertaining hilly finishes, some 5-10′ fun each, with the biggest difference between 1st and 10th position around 10″. The rest was sprints, that is, a couple of reduced sprints (preceeded by slightly entertaining stages) and three bunch sprints, with no time differences in the top ten.

Tirreno-Adriatico offered a couple of bunch sprints, a punchy finish comparable to those we usually saw in Pa-Ni, and… a mountain-top finish which saw Contador, Quintana, Porte et al. in the mix, a thrilling mountain stage where Contador attacked some 30kms from the finish line to ride away alone to the end (drawing in his slipstream what remained of the break) and a couple of TT (Team and Individual). You may not like those, but technically they’re interesting and, indeed, the ITT saw Malori coming first before Cancellara, Wiggins, Martin, Dumoulin (then Dowsett, Kwiatkowski…), that is more or less the state of the art in this discipline. The Passo Lanciano staged alone offered more or less as many minutes of “entertainment” as the whole Pa-Ni.

I’d like to add that I really appreciated ASO’s experiment, I’m not critical at all about their idea as such. I think it just needed to be worked on a little bit more by organisation and teams, being something more or less new, and it could start to produce a really interesting alternative. Guess they prefer to play conservative knowing that in the long run they’ll get the upper hand again anyway, thanks to sheer power and money.

J Evans March 10, 2015 at 10:40 pm

I meant last year’s P-N was better than this year’s (not difficult, so far, admittedly).
But good points.
I don’t like TTTs actually: I think they favour the rich teams too much and play too large a factor in deciding the GC. I also personally find them dull.

gabriele March 11, 2015 at 9:54 am

Sorry for the misunderstanding! (since you were referring to “racing” – and not to the course, for example – I thought it was strange to compare a whole race with just a couple of stages: hopefully, racing will improve along the next stages 🙂 ).
That said, I share your general view about TTT, but if they’re arranged properly they’re not too bad, something like a necessary evil. Sponsors, for some reason 😉 , love them.
A stage is used to hold one of them, and we’re maybe left with the feeling that the organisation could do something better with that racing day.
But, all in all, TTTs are nicer to watch (in a purely visual sense) than ITTs, or at least as nice; sort of a clockwork / ballet display.
Both technical and strategical elements are involved, and provided we’re offered adequate intermediate times, they can be thrilling. When they’re the first stage, as we’re becoming more and more accustomed to see in RCS races, and in the Vuelta, too, it can be interesting to see to whom the teams decide to give the jersey, in case they win.
The problem is that if they’re short, they’re usually irrelevant, and time gaps are usually too small to fully appreciate the difference in skill between teams, whereas if they’re large you’ve got to taper the effect on GC (TdF tried that).
Tirreno likes to use them as a prologue, more a presentation and a way to set starting positions (jersey wearers, order of cars) than anything else, something midway between a parade and an “aperitivo”.

gabriele March 11, 2015 at 10:17 am

However, today we’ll get no TTT but a shorter ITT, since some days ago bad weather stroke heavily Tuscany and presently it won’t be possible yet to close many roads for the race because many more have been already closed to fix the damages, hence it would be impossible to manage the traffic.
(images of the effects of the windstorm from a local newspaper:
http://iltirreno.gelocal.it/versilia/foto-e-video/2015/03/07/fotogalleria/maltempo-la-versilia-il-giorno-dopo-la-devastazione-1.10997317
Reportedly, in Forte dei Marmi half of the houses suffered significant damage).

Larry T. March 11, 2015 at 8:22 am

I believe these things go in cycles – one race is popular for awhile and then another gets the interest. Of course this isn’t the case with LeTour itself but perhaps since the wild-card teams are announced so early these days, teams do not need to curry favor with organizers by doing their early season (what used to be training) races? In the end it must be because the riders and team staff prefer to enjoy Italian food vs, well…pretty much anything else?:-)

Thruxmaster March 10, 2015 at 9:14 pm

No Froome, again canceling at the very last moment. A suspicious mind might wonder if he isn’t clean enough to ride? Yet.

Spofferoonie March 11, 2015 at 11:31 am

*sigh* He couldn’t possibly be ill, just doesn’t happen in cycling . . .

Andy March 10, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Do you think the trophy forms a reason as to why GC contenders want to ride Tirreno? 🙂 That Trophy is awesome, I love it!

Sam March 10, 2015 at 9:29 pm

I think there is place for both – TA for the GT guys and groups, PN for the Classics. The latter is suffering this year from mild weather and lack of wind.

Thrux – I’m pretty sure the biological passport and random out of competition testing discounts such a strategy as you are implying.

Thruxmaster March 10, 2015 at 10:09 pm

Sam, maybe micro dosing wasn’t micro enough. The story of 90 % still abusing, comes from somewhere.

J Evans March 10, 2015 at 10:44 pm

That is one person who has said that. Who knows how accurate/biased/etc. they are?
Not all sources are reliable.
For example:
Di Luca: 90 per cent of riders in Giro d’Italia were doping – Feb 2015.

The Inner Ring March 10, 2015 at 10:46 pm

The % is like a mirror, people who think doping is high pick a big number, if people think it’s low they say a lower figure. The only thing it really tells us is what the person stating thinks because they associate with it. There’s no actual way to measure it.

The 90% claim got some headlines, the 20% claim next to it got fewer.

maximflyer March 11, 2015 at 7:02 am

And let’s not forget the ‘false consensus effect’: those athletes who have history of PED abuse usually overestimate the PED use among other athletes (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21450047)

Othersteve March 10, 2015 at 9:50 pm

Sponsor wishes maybe a consideration for sending the A team to Italy or France.
Who is in the VIP tent.

weeclarky March 10, 2015 at 10:02 pm

basically P-N is boring as shit, apart from one hill towards the end. that does not make an exciting stage race, and time bonuses make a boring race just depressing – especially in the midst of the classics which are outstanding.. it doesn’t need to be daily summit finishes which also become tedious, but surely something interesting in the first few days? a day with many cat 3 hills – they’re good, and mix it up a bit. or, why can’t they do something interesting like a stage with mt ventoux? surely the GC guys would be interested in a day like that early in the season. it’s only a small detour!

Anonymous March 10, 2015 at 11:16 pm

Most of the race isn’t even close to the Adriatic. That’s probably why Froome became “ill”

Rich S March 10, 2015 at 11:26 pm

Mt Vontoux? That famously bald, wind swept nearly 2000 metre high hill? In March? Even if they could get the wind to stop drifting the snow over the road I’m guessing it would still be unbearably cold.

The Inner Ring March 10, 2015 at 11:32 pm

High risk as you say, it’s windy and cold. But it’s been used before, although only 3/4 way up to the Mont Serein ski station when Robert Gesink beat Cadel Evans. They’ve used the Montagne de Lure, almost as high. Further back they used the Vaujany ski resort in the Alps.

SeeingElvis March 11, 2015 at 12:20 am

The premise that the terrain between Paris and Nice is not of particular interest nor challenge is, in my own personal experience, not so by any means- no disrespect.
I mean, one could conceivably traverse the Stelvio on the way to Nice, if you want to get downright goofy about it. But you needn’t leave France, either. Just a silly illustration. Logistics, money, politics, planning…
T-A success should be making ASO raise their game for their non-TdF races.

I think that all of our recent discussions- races, CIRC, UCI, etc., might point to a potential temporary contraction in the sport. What economists might term a “correction.”
Just a guess.

Ferdi March 11, 2015 at 4:55 am

There’s also the problem of who are the stars nowadays, if by them you mean GT winners, because GTs are so heavily tilted towards climbing that big guys like Kelly, Maertens, Moser, and the like would now just be confined to the classics and TT. And Paris-Nice cannot be a race for climbing specialists, basically because of the weather.
But it can, and should, be much hillier, and demanding, and varied.
Yet all in all, I like this week in the year a lot.

Larry T. March 11, 2015 at 8:35 am

+1

Anonymous March 11, 2015 at 9:56 am

Agreed Ferdi, this week is where my interest sparks. PN for me is fantastic I can’t get enough of it. Slow days, flat terrain, no crosswinds, whatever I am happy. I will try and catch up with TA, but Paris Nice is my first priority.

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