As the World’s leading road racing cyclists hone their fitness as a prelude to riding the Grand Tours during late Spring and Summer, two important stage races have finished in recent days and while it is still early days in the cycling calendar, the results have provided an indication of the current form of the main favourites for the Italian, French and Spanish three week tours
The seven stage Tirreno-Adriatico race in Italy was billed as an early clash between Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali, but Froome withdrew just days before the start of the race due to a chest infection and Nibali rarely threatened with his Astana team currently being accused of illegal doping practices.
Yet the race will be most remembered for the weather conditions on the mountainous stage five to Monte Terminillo with a serious snowstorm affecting both riders and road conditions near the summit. Quintana proved his well-being by attacking near the finish to win the stage by over 40 seconds with Contandor finishing in a small group just over a minute behind the Colombian climber. Quintana assumed the overall race leadership with a 39 second gap to Belgian rider Bauke Mollema and Contador just over a minute adrift of the leader in fifth position.
Quintana did lose time to most of his challengers during the final 10 kilometre time trial won by Fabian Cancellara but he still claimed overall victory by a comfortable 18 seconds and thereby sending a defiant message to his rivals ahead of racing in the next few months.
Meanwhile over in France, Richie Porte demonstrated that the Team Sky cyclists may have emerged from their winter training programmes in decent form, especially after the Australian rider and his team-mate Gerriant Thomas occupied the first two positions at the finish on the Col de la Croix de Chaubouret, during a mountainous stage four.
Yet French cyclist Tony Gallopin had appeared a certain winner of the race when he won the penultimate stage six of the event between Vence and Nice which followed the difficult terrain of the Alpes-Maritime region for much of the route. On an unusually cold and wet day at the finish of the stage on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, Gallopin claimed the stage victory by over 30 seconds to secure the leader’s yellow jersey with Porte 37 seconds adrift on general classification and Polish rider Michal Kwiatkowski back in third position.
The final stage of the race involved a fairly mountainous individual time trial from close to the Nice Riquier railway station around Mont Gros and then scaling Col d’Eze. In similarly damp and cool conditions over a distance of 9.6 kilometres, Gallopin could only finish 29th and surrendered his overall race lead to Porte who won the stage to claim the race victory by 30 seconds. It was second victory in the race after his triumph in 2013 and indicates that he already appears in prime condition to help Froome during the forthcoming events.
There remain several more preparatory races before the Grand Tour races begin but early signs suggest that some riders have already declared their fitness while others may be playing a waiting game.
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