Cycling officially kicked into high gear this last week with the Paris-Nice and the Tirreno-Adriatico stage races, both providing a thrilling final act. Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the French stage race since Tom Simpson in 1967 and in central Italy yesterday, Vincenzo Nibali won the overall. Both clinched the overall in a final time trial.
Milano-Sanremo lurks around the corner, leaving barely enough time to reflect on the results. Saturday, 200 riders will set off for the longest day of their season, including defending champion Matt Goss.
Nibali nabs Tirreno-Adriatico win
The Shark, Vincenzo Nibali stole the Tirreno-Adriatico lead at the last moment yesterday from Chris Horner. The final act in central Italy followed two stages where he ate into Horner’s lead, including a stage win on Saturday.
“This win counts a lot,” the Italian of team Liquigas said after the win, trident trophy still in hand. “I’ve always dreamed of winning stages here, and I did. I also won the overall.”
Though back by six seconds on Horner ahead of yesterday’s 9.3-kilometre test, he shot into the lead with a strong performance. He finished 19 seconds faster than Horner, managed Roman Kreuziger and jumped from third overall. The final GC: Nibali sat 14 seconds ahead of Horner (RadioShack) and 26 seconds ahead of Kreuziger (Astana).
His attention turns to Milano-Sanremo, the Ardennes Classics and the Tour de France. He will likely not race the Giro d’Italia.
“I don’t want to just go there and ride around,” he explained, “you need to honour the race if you go.”
See final Tirreno-Adriatico results
Chris Horner, at 40, is one of the oldest cyclists in the WorldTour. His secret?
“I train, sleep and eat. It sounds simple, but that’s what it is,” Horner explained. “The most difficult thing is to say no, you have to tell your family no, tell your friends no, sometimes you have to tell your sponsors no because they can take all your time. The easier part is training, I love that.”
He lives in Bend, Oregon, married and has three children.
“So, you have to say yes a lot to them! I have one child in elementary school, one in middle school, one child in high school. It’s very complicated.”
Sky and Liquigas double up
Teams Sky and Liquigas each took back-to-back stages in the Tirreno-Adriatico. Sky led the way with Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen in stages two and three. Liquigas followed. Peter Sagan rocketed into Chieti and Nibali scored the next day on top of Prati di Tivo.
“It was beautiful to have a great train like that for me and Vincenzo,” Sagan said after his win. “It was a like Sky’s train, but a different type of finishes.”
Sagan darted ahead of Nibali into Chieti’s centre and raised a few eyebrows. Nibali kept calm, taking command the next day.
Sky ruled both sprint stages. Cavendish hadn’t raced with Boasson Hagen since 2009 and won thanks to his help.
“We always joked when we raced at Highroad, it was just like playing Play Station: left, right, faster, slower. I missed him and I’m happy to work with him again,” Cavendish explained. “Everyone knows how strong this guy is, I am incredibly lucky that he’s here.”
GreenEDGE won stage one, Katusha with Joaquím Rodríguez stage six and RadioShack with Fabian Cancellara stage seven.
Evans closes first stage race
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) finished his first stage race of the year, finishing 32nd overall and 49th in the final time trial. He won the race last year ahead of the Tour de France.
“The biggest difference was the result, from first to 30-something. I didn’t have the smoothest off-season, there was the risk I wasn’t going to be at the same level,” he said in a press release.
“Analysing it, I’m not riding so poorly, as the results might indicate. There are many people riding really hard here, there’s a very high level of competition and so on. In the scheme of things, it’s not as bad the results would indicate for the rest of the season.”
He was followed during the race by wife Chiara and their new boy, Robel. They return home to Switzerland, where Evans will rest ahead of the Critérium International. Afterwards, he races the Ardennes Classics in late April, the Tour of Romandy in May and, of course, the Tour of France in July.
Wiggo’s enormous win
Bradley Wiggins clinched the Paris-Nice overall victory on Sunday and became the first Brit to win since Tom Simpson in 1967.
“To win Paris-Nice,” Wiggins said, “it’s fucking enormous.”
Wiggins held on to the leader’s yellow jersey after he and Sky team-mate, Geraint Thomas formed part of a crucial escape in the second stage. On the stage to Mende on Thursday, Richie Porte helped his captain keep the lead despite an attack by Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM).
Westra became Wiggins’ main rival after Levi Leipheimer (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) crashed several times on Saturday’s leg to Nice. Wiggins, an Olympic pursuit champion, had little problem keeping Westra in check on the final mountain time trial on Sunday. He won the stage by two seconds and the race overall by eight seconds.
“I try not to think too much about following in Tom Simpson’s footsteps, and everyone else on that list – Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain. It’s a massive thing.”
His biggest win prior to Paris Nice was the Dauphiné Libéré stage race last year. A month later, he crashed and abandoned the Tour de France with a broken collarbone. He returned, though, to place third at the Vuelta a España.
Cadel Evans considers him one of his main rivals given this year’s time trial-heavy Tour.
“After the great season last year, despite the crash in the Tour, I have more self-belief,” explained Wiggins. “With every result, I have more confidence that I can win.”
See final Paris-Nice results
Cipollini is serious
Mario Cipollini is serious about returning though he is 44 years old and without a team.
Filippo Pozzato races for Farnese Vini, which sponsored by Cipollini’s bikes and sees nothing romantic about his return. He told La Gazzetta dello Sport, “Don’t get me going on this.”
Farnese Vini wishes Cipollini well, but just not in its team.
“If there’s a team who wants to take a gamble on Cipollini, I’m ready,” Cipollini said. “If I can be back at the Giro and other big races, I would be the happiest man in the world.”
Cipollini said he’s talking to the Union Cycliste International (UCI) to meet its criterion on testing. Riders are required to be in its testing pool for six months prior to racing.
He’ll be 45 next week, just past the number of Giro stage wins in his palmarès, 42. He also won 12 Tour stages, Milano-Sanremo and the World Championships.
Milano-Sanremo, La Classicissima, kicks of the big classics season on Saturday. The race counts as one of the five monuments and makes legends.
Eddy Merckx added to his legendary status by winning the race a record seven times. His first race win in 1967 came when he was only 20 years old.
The race, 102 editions and counting, covers nearly 300 kilometres. If the distance doesn’t eliminate the contenders, the short seaside climbs will. The three capi, the Cipressa and the Poggio leave only the strongest of sprinters remaining.
Matt Goss became the first Australian to win last year. He returns this year with Australia’s first top-division team, GreenEDGE.
What are the odds? Cavendish is the bookies’ top pick at 3:1. Sagan is 8:1, Cancellara 10:1, and Goss and Boasson Hagen are 12:1.
“Winning in Tirreno always gives you that psychological advantage,” Cavendish explained after his stage win. “The pressure’s the same whether or not I have the [rainbow] jersey.”
“I feel well, I’ve arrived in good condition, I hope this condition will carry me through the classics,” Sagan said. “I don’t know [how to win], or if I can even win it!”
“When anyone wins his first big classic he’s not prepared. My phone went flat for two days!” Goss said of his win last year. “It doesn’t change, there’s more pressure from the team and from within. I go into these races now expecting to do something.”
Tirreno faced more climbing than in recent editions, especially when you consider Oscar Freire won the race overall in 2005. On Sunday, the stage finished at 1450 metres.
Alessandro Petacchi, who seemed to be suffering all day, abandoned the race on Sunday’s stage. Boasson Hagen and Goss didn’t start on Monday, Gilbert pulled out with a fever, Cavendish quit during the stage.
“In the past years, Tirreno has had climbs,” Nibali said. “It suits me better like this. It’s good to have a change.”
“Tirreno is really hard this year,” Evans added. “If you don’t have the legs, there’s nothing to do.”
Six Sanremo winners raced Tirreno this year, two remained in the final time trial leg in San Benedetto: Fabian Cancellara and Filippo Pozzato.
“When I won [in 2008], from there, the race has changed,” Cancellara said. “Now, it suits a Grand Tour rider. Still, it’s good preparation Sanremo.”
The race travels from Milan’s centre down to the Italian Riviera via the Turchino pass. The race covers several small, but painful climbs along the coast, in the last 100 kilometres before Sanremo: Le Mànie climb at kilometre 204, the three Capi climbs between 245 and 258, the Cipressa at 275.9 and the Poggio at 291.8, or with 6.2 kilometres remaining.
Gilbert knocked out
Philippe Gilbert was the hottest property in cycling last season, snatching one-day wins from Strade Bianche to San Sebastián. He won all three Ardennes Classics, a Tour de France stage and several other races. This year, though, he’s off target.
“My goals are later in the season,” he said. “The season’s long, the Ardennes, the Olympics and the Worlds.”
A fever on Sunday night may have dashed any chance of Gilbert winning Sanremo. He didn’t start Tirreno’s sixth leg on Monday.
“For sure he was fighting something,” BMC Racing’s race doctor, Max Testa said. “We thought he was getting better, but they did 22 hours of racing in four days, that’s a lot of effort. The immune system doesn’t work well when you’re tired.”
He still hopes to return to the top for Sanremo.
“He will ride his bike and do a little more training. Normally this lasts 24 hours or two days.”
BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet also injured his Achilles tendon this week. The team may have to rely solely on Thor Hushovd, who finished third twice.
Michael Matthews will miss Sanremo due to a crash in the second leg of Tirreno-Adriatico.
He “sustained various cuts and abrasions, a serious laceration on his right arm and an injury to his shin,” read a team Rabobank press release. “The laceration on the arm received eleven stitches.”
Matthews won Clasica de Almería last month. Last year, he debuted in Sanremo with 107th place.
Nuyens forgoes Ronde title defence
Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank) announced he is unable to defend his Tour of Flanders title next month due to a fractured hip.
“This is an enormous blow, and I’m of course very sad right now,” Nuyens said in a press release. “This crash couldn’t come at a worse time.”
The Belgian crashed in the opening time trial at Paris-Nice and slightly fractured his right hip. As a result, he misses his country’s biggest race on April 1.