Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 4
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15/03 - Stage 4 - Indicatore (Arezzo) to Cittareale (Selva Rotonda) - 244 km

As expected, Michal Kwiatkowski managed to fight for the win as Peter Sagan won Friday’s stage 3. The Pole finished 2nd on the stage and by that gained six valuable bonus seconds. Kwiatkowski now has a gap of over 35 seconds to his nearest rivals and 10 seconds to his teammate Rigoberto Uran. This means the other GC favorites now really have to work hard, if they still want a chance to win this race. Luckily for them, they will have a good chance to take back some time on stage 4, which is also the Queen Stage of this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico.

The route
For some reason, the Italian race organizers continue to stick to their idea about (too) long stages. 244 km are waiting for the riders today, with the first 120 of them being flat. One could argue it would make sense to cut out the first part of the stage and just keep the final part. This is where the real race will take place with no less than three long categorized climbs. Remember you can see a detailed profile of each climb, by holding the mouse over it on the stage profile at the top. If you are reading on your phone or tablet, simply click on the climb for the detailed profile to pop up.

The first of the three climbs, Forca di Cerro, comes after 142 km in the saddle. It’s not very steep (average gradient of 4.6 %) but the 9.6 km towards the top still have a couple of parts of over 10 %. Coming down from Forca di Cerro, the peloton immediately starts the second climb of the day, Forca Capistrello. This is the first time this season when the riders take on a climb of this length. The 16.3 km towards the top of Forca Capistrello have an average gradient of 6.7 %. However, there are a couple of ‘flat’ parts and a two kilometers descent near the top as well. Therefore, the actual average gradient is closer to 8.5 %. There are still over 60 km to go from the top of Forca Capistrello. Even if a selected group of riders breaks free on the climb, they will most likely be caught before the final struggle begins.

Selva Rotonda starts with 14 km to go and has an average gradient of 5.3 %. It starts out ‘easy’ with 5 km at 4.2 %. From here on, the gradient steadily increases all the way towards the top. The final three kilometers are the steepest with parts of 10 % with one kilometer to go.

The favorites
Without Chris Froome, the two big favorites for this stage must be Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana. Contador won on Alto do Malhão in Volta ao Algarve last month and seems to be back in the shape we used to see him in at this point of the season. The time gap says 36 seconds from Alberto Contador to Michael Kwiatkowski. This means that Contador needs to take at least 27 seconds on the Polish champion, if he wants to rip the blue leader’s jersey off his shoulder. Remember, there are 10, 6 and 4 bonus seconds on the line. Tinkoff-Saxo is bringing their A-team to Tirreno-Adriatico this year and Contador will be able to count on the support from strong riders such as Roman Kreuziger and Nicolas Roche. The team has red-circled this race on their race calendar and I would be surprised not to see Alberto Contador on podium today - as well as overall.

Like Contador, Nairo Quintana has also already won on a mountain top finish this year. This happened in Tour de San Luis, a race also won overall. In Roma Maxima, Quintana animated the race on the final climb with a series of strong attacks. The Colombian super climber seems to be in great shape and has one of the strongest teams in the race to support him. Not very often Nairo Quintana attacks on a mountain top finish without winning the stage. I see Quintana and Contador on the same level right now hence it’s very difficult to pick a winner between these two. We may even get to see a sprint for the stage win if one can’t drop the other.

Talking about the favorites, you have to mention Richie Porte. He took over as team leader after Chris Froome pulled out, but that didn’t change the team’s ambitions of winning overall. Porte has the Giro d’Italia as his big target this year and he needs to prove that he is up for the task. He didn’t make podium in Tour Down Under and espite a strong team effort, he couldn’t drop Alejandro Valverde on the climbs in Ruta del Sol. Chris Froome will be back again in Volta Catalunya, so this is probably Porte’s only chance to show he can win against the elite before he takes on the Giro. In Tour Down Under, he soloed away to win on Willunga Hill but this is very different. There weren’t any real climbers in Australia this year and anything but a win would have been a disappointment for Porte. Team Sky will most likely do what they do best; set a high pace in the beginning of the climb to thin out the peloton. Bradley Wiggins, Dario Cataldo, Mikel Nieve and in-shape super talent, Peter Kennaugh, will be the last riders for Porte. Personally, I don’t think there will be more than 10 riders left in the front group when Kennaugh is done. It’s one thing to thin out the competition, another one to win the stage. I must admit that I doubt Richie Porte can win this stage against Contador and Quintana. However, Porte is usually best when people starts to doubt him.

The outsiders
There are so many strong climbers in this race. It would take days to mention them all and write about their chances. Michele Scarponi, Tanel Kangert, Stefano Pirazzi, Robert Gesink, Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso, Andrew Talansky, Dan Martin, Chris Horner, Diego Ulissi, Thibaut Pinot, Ivan Santaromita, Pierre Rolland, Dani Moreno, Tiago Machado and Robert Kiserlovski are just some of them.

Instead, I’ll pick out three riders. First one is - and this shouldn't come as a surprise - Domenico Pozzovivo. As I wrote in the overall preview, I expect big things from Pozzovivo this season. He was the strongest climber in Roma Maxima by far last Sunday and, as an Italian, he naturally aims high in this race. Pozzovivo is already 1:13 min after Michal Kwiatkowski in the general classification so he may not be the first rider the other GC favorites will start chasing down. I would be surprised not to see Pozzovivo trying to get away on the final climb.

My other two outsider picks are Bauke Mollema and Julian Arredondo. Mollema aims high in Tirreno-Adriatico this year, and together with Robert Gesink, Belkin has a dangerous duo. In Ruta del Sol, Mollema proved to be in great shape. Should the Dutch climber manage to stay with the best riders all the way, few will be able to match Mollema in a sprint. One of these few might be Julian Arredondo. After a very successful Tour de San Luis, Arredondo was a huge disappointment in Ruta del Sol. He was nowhere near the front when it mattered and he must be eager to take revenge now. However, I doubt the young Colombian has ever taken on a stage of 244 km before. He has definitely not done so against the top elite. Arredondo’s idol is Purito Rodriguez and they share a lot of similarities. Like Purito, Arredondo is strong on the climbs and explosive on the steep parts. If he doesn’t manage to show himself on this stage, look out for Julian Arredondo on Sunday’s stage, which would have Purito written all over it if he were in the race.

Also. Pay attention to Alexandre Geniez. He’s in very good shape right now and wasn’t far off Alberto Contador in Volta ao Algarve. I think FDJ will try set up Geniez today and I expect him to make top10.

The leading duo
The big question today is: Will Michal Kwiatkowski be able to keep the leader’s jersey? Last year, Kwiatkowski trained hard to improve his climbing abilities and so far it seems to have paid off. He attacked over the top of the final climb, when he won stage 2 in Volta ao Algarve and he managed to limit his loss to only 10 seconds against Alberto Contador on stage 4. Last year, he finished fourth on the big mountain stage of Tirreno-Adriatico - in front of Contador. He will definitely not give up without a fight. Also, he knows he has a solid gap already, so he doesn’t have to panic when the first attacks come.

In case of Michal Kwiatkowski having a bad day on the bike, Omega Pharma Quickstep also has Rigoberto Uran to bank on. The Colombian has 26 seconds on Contador, 28 seconds on Quintana and 29 seconds on Porte before the stage. In Tour of Oman, Uran finished 3rd on the mountain top finish and he seems to be in great shape after training in Colombia. In this field, and with Kwiatkowski on the team, it’s easy to forget about Rigoberto Uran. This happened in the Giro d’Italia as well last year, and back then he ended up finishing 2nd overall. It would be a big mistake to underestimate him. At this time of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him near Quintana and Contador.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv