Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 5
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16/03 - Stage 5 - Amatrice to Guardiagrele -192 km

Usually, there is at least one stage in Tirreno-Adriatico which is perfectly suited for Purito Rodriguez. In the past, it was the steep finish on Montelupone and recently it was in Chieti. This year, Guardiagrele hosts “wall” of the race. There is only one problem: Purito Rodriguez is not in the race this time. Therefore, there is no top favorite for this stage.

The route
This is another long stage of nearly 200 km. The first 145 km shouldn’t trouble the riders much. However, the final 50 km most certainly will. Passo Lanciano is 12.3 km long and has an average gradient of 8.3 %. The steepest part comes right in the beginning where the road kicks up with 13 %. This means, the peloton will thin out quickly as the gradient doesn’t drop below 9 % the following four kilometers. Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo can really put Michal Kwiatkowski under pressure if they decide go hard already here.

However, there is almost 30 km to go from the top of Passo Lanciano. Riders dropped close to the top, will be able to recover and come back on the long descent. With about 8 km to go, the road kicks up again, but this is only an appetizer for what’s awaiting the riders. After a short decent, the peloton turns right and now it gets interesting. The following 1.5 km have an average gradient of 5.5 % and that’s nothing compared to what’s up next. With 1400 meters to go, the road kicks up with an average (!) gradient of 22 % for about 600 meters. There are parts of 30 % in the beginning and this is where Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana will have to put in their attack to shake Michal Kwiatkowski. Upon reaching the top, the following 500 meters are flat before the riders turn right and face the final 250 meters of 10-12 %.

The favorites
Without Purito in the race, there is no sole favorite for this stage. However, his teammate Dani Moreno is a very good ‘substitute’. Before Saturday’s stage 4, I wasn’t quite sure if Moreno was back at 100 % after his crash at the end of the year. He wasn’t able to follow Quintana and Contador when they attacked the first time but in the end, Moreno had enough energy to put in a strong sprint to take 3rd place on the stage. Dani Moreno won Flèche Wallone last year and after his performance on stage 4, the Spaniard is now my personal favorite to win in Guardiagrele.

For the lack of other explosive riders we might have to look to the pure climbers for this stage. Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador may not pack the same sprint as Dani Moreno does, but they are both able to put in strong attacks uphill. Quintana has Igor Antón to support him and in the past, we have seen Antón doing very well on Mur de Huy in Flèche Wallone. If he attacks with Quintana on his wheel, I think very few will be able to follow. Alberto Contador also did well in Flèche Wallone in the past, finishing 3rd in 2010. As expected, he’s in great shape right now. However, if Contador wants to win Tirreno-Adriatico overall, he has to attack hard and keep going. He can’t afford to let Michael Kwiatkowski get back as he and Quintana did on stage 4 after their first attack.

The Polish champion has progressed a lot since Tirreno-Adriatico last year. On the steep finish in Chieti, Kwiatkowski lost his chances of winning overall as he lost 35 seconds to the winner that day. However, only a month later he did very well in Fléche Wallone, finishing 5th on Mur de Huy. In Strade Bianche this year, Kwiatkowski dropped Peter Sagan on the final steep part of the race. With a good performance today, Kwiatkowski will most likely have this race sealed before the final two stages.

The outsiders
Diego Ulissi and Daniel Martin are two very interesting riders for this stage, too. However, I think 600 meters of 22 % is a bit too much for them. Both are very fast on the line and have a strong kick, but if Quintana and Contador take off on the part of 30 %, I doubt Ulissi and Martin will be able to follow. Lampre-Merida also has Chris Horner and Damiano Cunego in the race. Maybe if they hit the front with Ulissi in third position just before the “wall”, he could stay within contention for the stage. It’s all about being well-positioned. Just ask Daniel Martin. He started in a horrible position (about 20th) in last year’s Flèche Wallone and couldn’t finish better than 4th, despite being the fastest rider on the final 150 meters.

In his best days, Philippe Gilbert would have been one of the top favorites for this stage. Gilbert in 2011 shape would probably be unbeatable this Sunday. However, he has been nowhere near that shape the last couple of years and I think 22 % is too much for him right now. He did well on stage 3 when he tried to surprise Sagan with an early sprint. It didn’t work out, but it must have given him a confidence boost. It will be interesting to see if Gilbert has what it takes to win this time. Team-mate Cadel Evans has done well on these climbs in the past - winning Flèche Wallone - but he too hasn’t shown the same kind of shape on the walls since. Also, on stage 4 Cadel Evans was one of the first of the “favorites” to lose ground.

Also, once again, look out for Domenico Pozzovivo. He may not have a strong kick on a wall like this, but with only 53 kg to carry, he’s feeling right at home on 22 %. The same applies for Julian Arredondo. As mentioned yesterday, Arredondo’s compares himself to Purito and this is surely a finish perfectly suited for Purito. Arredondo did well on Saturday, finishing 15th on the stage. Stage 5 is shorter and the steep finish will suit him better than a long climb after 230 km on the bike.

Bauke Mollema too is very strong in an uphill finish like this. He did very well in Ruta del Sol, when he finished second on the steep finish on stage 2. However, Mollema wasn’t great on stage 4, finishing as number 20. Let’s see if he’s up for the task Sunday afternoon.

What about Sagan?
On paper, Peter Sagan should be amongst the favorites for this stage. However, despite being strong on short steep climbs and very fast on the line, this finish doesn’t really suit Sagan. If the last kilometer on this stage were straight out, or downhill, he would be the favorite.  On the steep finish in Chieti last year, Sagan couldn’t keep up with Purito and the rest and in Flèche Wallone, Sagan also faded in the end, despite being in a perfect position with just 300 meters to go. Also, as mentioned earlier, Sagan couldn’t follow Kwiatkowski when he attacked on the steep gradients in Strade Bianche.

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