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17/03 - Stage 7 (ITT) San Benedetto del Tronto - 10 km

It’s time to settled the general classification. Top10 might change a bit but it will be a huge surprise not to see Nairo Quintana being crowned as the overall winner of Tirreno-Adriatico 2015 this afternoon.

The route
This final time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto has become a traditional stage in the race. Today’s course is almost identical to the one used within the last two years. It’s a few hundred meters longer but the set-up is the same. It’s a very fast course with only a couple of corners to overcome. After 5 km on the bike, the riders turn right twice in order to head back towards San Benedetto del Tronto. The intermediate sprint comes after 4.7 km, just before these two corners.

Except for a quick right-left S-bend with about 2.5 km to go, this second part of the course is straight-out all the way towards the finishing line. Last year, Adriano Malori won in front of Fabian Cancellara, Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and Tom Domoulin. This is surely a stage for the time trial specialists able to push a big gear.

The favorites
Even though we have a strong field in this Tirreno-Adriatico, the lineup of time trial specialists is far from as impressive as last year. That being said, we still have number one and two from last year’s stage ready to fight it out against the clock once again.

In the preview of stage 1, I said Adriano Malori was the prime pick for this final time trial. I’ll stick to that statement. Malori has improved significantly over the last couple of years and he’s now one of the absolute best riders in the peloton for this type of stage. As mentioned above, the Italian beat all the world’s best time trialists last year. Distancing Tony Martin with 15 seconds on a 9 km course is truly impressive. Malori’s Tirreno-Adriatico has already been a success as the won stage 1 and took the leader’s jersey. The morale on Movistar is sky high with Nairo Quintana leading the race. Before the opening stage was changed from a TTT to an ITT, Adriano Malori had his eyes fixed on today. He wants to prove that last year’s performance was not a one-time thing. He’s obviously in great shape and I think he’ll finish this race like he started it - on top of the podium.

Fabian Cancellara missed out on the stage win on the first day by just one second. Afterwards, the Swiss was very upset. He didn’t tackle the course as he wanted to, saying he wouldn’t have even been satisfied had he won the stage this way. Today is Cancellara’s last chance to put his mark on the race. Last year, he finished 6 seconds behind Adriano Malori on this course. It won’t be easy for him to beat the Italian but you can never count out Cancellara on this type of stage.

Personally, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Matthias Brändle can do today. The 25 year-old Austrian looked to be a promising stage race rider when he first entered the pro peloton. Since then, Brändle has changed focus and this seems to have been a wise choice. Being extremely strong in all terrains and semi-fast on the line, Matthias Brändle has all the right qualities to become a top time trialist. He has already proven his abilities against the clock when he set a new hour record last year. He finished 6th in the short time trial in Tour of Qatar at the beginning of the season. In this race, he was only 2 seconds from beating Adriano Malori in the opening stage. If everything works out for him, I won’t be surprised if Matthias Brändle wins this stage.

The outsiders
The last couple of days have been very tough for the riders. For this stage, it’s all about motivation and who has something left in the legs after a hard week of racing this early in the season. Peter Sagan finally took his first win of the season when he won stage 6 and got a much-needed boost of confidence. Sagan went full gas in the prologue and almost crashed in one of the corners. With the Classics coming up, and this last scare fresh in his mind, I doubt he’ll take any unnecessary risks today. However, he should be able to do well. His teammate Maciej Bodnar came very close to winning the opening time trial. Only 2 seconds separated him from Adriano Malori. If he can put in a similar performance today, he might be able to give Tinkoff-Saxo their second win in two days and silence the critics for a while.

None of the GC riders has any real chances of stealing the show in this time trial. The best candidate is probably MTN-Qhubeka’s Stephen Cummings. The Brit finished 8th on stage 1, six seconds down. He’s 9th in the general classification but less than 10 seconds away from top5. Cummings is strong against the clock and it would be a huge result for the African team if they could place a rider in top5 overall in their first WT race of the season. Cummings’ teammate, Edvald Boasson Hagen, is also good in this discipline. He’s seems to be in great shape ahead of the Classics and I would expect him to clock a good time as well.

For other outsiders with a chance of making a good result, look to Daniel Oss, Greg van Avermaet, Ramunas Navardauskas, Michael Hepburn, Andriy Grivko and Trek’s Jesse Sergent who underperformed in the opening time trial.  The Kiwi is very good on this distance and should be able to do well today.

The overall podium
For the general classification, I doubt we will see any changes on the top of the podium. Nairo Quintana is not bad in a short time trial and since Bauke Mollema is no specialist, the Colombian shouldn’t have any problems winning Tirreno-Adriatico overall – as long as he stays on the bike this time. However, we might see a change of positions on the two other steps on the podium. Rigoberto Uran is very strong against the clock. In the opening 5.4 km time trial, Uran was 5 seconds faster than Mollema. The distance is almost twice as long today and there are much longer flat stretches where you can really go fast. With only 9 seconds between the two riders, I think it will be very difficult for Bauke Mollema to hold on to this 2nd place. The Dutchman has been training hard on his time trial bike, but I think this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico will end with two Colombians on top.

The first rider off the start ramp is Fran Ventoso at 13:30 CET, while Nairo Quintana, as the last rider, starts at 15:59 CET. You can see the full starting order by clicking here.

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