17/03 - Bucchianico to Porto Sant'Elpidio -189 km
After two hard stages in the mountains, it’s now time for the sprinters to shine again. Many missed out on stage 2 and will be eager not to let this last opportunity in Tirreno-Adriatico slip away as well.
Last year’s stage to Porto Sant'Elpidio will always be remembered for the extreme parcours. On wet roads, many riders were forced to push their bikes up the steep climbs. Over 50 riders abandoned the race that day. This year however, the scenario is quite different. The stage also starts out with a climb but the following 100 km alongside the sea won’t trouble the riders much. Anything but a bunch sprint would be a huge surprise.
After tackling a short climb in Sant’Elpidio a Mare, the peloton crosses the finishing line in Porto Sant'Elpidio for the first time after 161.5 km on the bike. From here, the riders take on a circuit of 13.8 km, which they complete twice. The route is flat but there are around 10 sharp corners, which will make the fight for positions near the front very difficult. After passing under the 2-km-to-go-banner, two 90° right hand turns are awaiting the riders. Only the last 1500 meters are straight out, so it’s very important for the leadout teams to hit the front before these two corners. The peloton will be stretched out significantly and it will be difficult to get back to the front, if you are not well positioned. Remember, you can see a map of the final circuit by holding the mouse over the final part of the stage on the profile. If you are reading on your phone or tablet, simply touch on the final part for the map to pop up.
Despite having the world’s top six sprinters in the race, Matteo Pelucchi blasted to victory on stage 2. I’ve already mentioned Pelucchi numerous times this year as a future top sprinter, but I must admit he surprised me, too, last Thursday. Despite the impressive win, I doubt Pelucchi will be able to do it again this time. Don’t count him out though!
To me, the number one favorite is Marcel Kittel. He crashed in the final of stage 2 and must be extremely motivated to take revenge in Porto Sant'Elpidio. Giant-Shimano may not bring their strongest leadout train to the race. However, as long as they can position Kittel near the front - preferably on the wheel of Greipel - he should be able to outsprint the rest. Lotto-Belisol seemed to have timed it perfectly on stage 2, but Andre Greipel didn’t have the legs in the final. Basically, he ended up leading out Pelucchi instead. Therefore, I’m switching my winner pick from Greipel to Kittel this time.
FDJ probably made their best leadout ever on stage 2. Unfortunately, Arnaud Démare opened up the sprint too early. In the strong headwind, the fast Frenchman simply ran out of legs and finished 2nd. The same thing happened for Sacha Modolo. Jumping from the wheel of Démare, he struggled in the strong wind. Modolo went left to right searching for shelter and finished 8th on the stage. I still believe Sacha Modolo has what it takes to win this stage, but he needs to be smarter. A strong headwind should not come as a surprise in a World Tour race with radio contact to the car.
Mark Cavendish got caught up behind Marcel Kittel, when the German crashed. Cavendish didn’t go down but it took a lot of energy to get back to the front. In the end, he was right in the mix, on the wheel of Alessandro Petacchi, but he didn’t have the legs to fight for the win. Only having won one race this season - while Greipel has bagged six and Kittel four - naturally Cavendish is eager to show he still got it. On paper, Petacchi and Renshaw should be the best leadout duo in the peloton, but so far, they haven’t been able to deliver. If Mark Cavendish wants to prove that he’s still the best sprinter in the world, he has to win a stage like this one; against the top elite. It will be interesting to see if he can.
If you are looking for an outsider, look to Filippo Fortin. He’s a big guy and has a high top speed. In the final of stage 2 he found himself boxed in but he finished very fast when he finally found an opening. It would be a big surprise if Fortin won this stage. However, Pelucchi proved that it’s possible to win in this field, if you manage to get on the right wheel in the final.
For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv