For the last few years March’s stage racing action has been my favourite outside the Grand Tours. The overlapping races of France and Italy attract everybody who’s anybody (almost) and act as preparation for the classics, the Giro or even the Tour. However, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico are so much more than mere preparation. Tirreno-Adriatico has developed into a fine Italian race, muscling in amongst the major players on the UCI Calendar. The race has transitioned from a Milan San-Remo warm-up (won six straight times by Roger De Vlaeminck) to an assault on Italy’s Apennines. In recent years it’s been the choice of the leading climbers in the pro peloton; won by Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador. Paris-Nice needs less of an introduction with its rich history stretching back to 1933. The race is often aggressively approached with a recent trend of lumpy unpredictable stages. Whilst both can be enjoyed side-by-side, which is likely to be the better race in 2016?
Last year we saw the more conventional sprints in Paris-Nice and a glance at the startlist indicates more of the same (Kittel, Kristoff, Bouhanni…). Organizers tend to get the sprints in early – as per traditional racing lore – but this year Stages 1 and 4 look the most suitable for the pure fast men. Stage 2 could be a ‘Michael Matthews Stage’ but the rest look selective with climbs. Tirreno is harder on the sprinters, however, and this is reflected in the startlist. Expect the fast-but-tough sorts to contest those sprints on offer (Sagan, Van Avermaet, Colbrelli…) but there might be places for track champions Fernando Gaviria and Mark Cavendish.
With memories of last year’s snowy Terminillo you can be forgiven for thinking Tirreno-Adriatico hits harder with its climbs. This time around, however, there’s really just one monster day, Stage 5, with the last of five peaks a summit finish on the Monte san Vicino. Paris-Nice battles back with its own queen stage (ending on La Madone D’Utelle) plus possibly the finish of the week in the short, steep Mont Brouilly. All the big name climbers (save for Froome and Quintana) should be in action and are shared equally between the two races. Tirreno may edge it with both Sky and Astana bringing more climb-centric teams to Italy.
With 30km of time-trialling to Paris-Nice’s meagre 6km prologue, Tirreno-Adriatico’s the place to be for the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Vasil Kiryienka and Tony Martin. The opening TTT looks suited to BMC’s super strong team with Tejay Van Garderen and Taylor Phinney candidates to take the race lead. Paris-Nice has removed their mountain time trial from the last day and this year’s route combines elements of the past two editions.
Paris-Nice can boast the likes of Contador, Romain Bardet and Rui Costa plus former team-mates Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas. Tom Dumoulin and Laurens Ten Dam will lead Giant-Alpecin, whilst Cannondale bring both Andrew Talansky and Pierre Rolland. The opposition from Tirreno comes in the form of major players Nibali, Van Garderen and possibly Alejandro Valverde – not forgetting a supporting cast of Joaquim Rodriguez, Domenico Pozzovivo and Thibaut Pinot. On paper Tirreno has the bigger names, but something tells me the Paris-Nice selection will be the hungrier for a win. Too close to call.
Paris-Nice organizers opted for a familiar three teams in Direct Energie, Cofidis and Fortuneo – Vital Concept. Cofidis have the most interesting line-up with Nacer Bouhanni having something close to his best lead-out train. Their final wildcard went to Delko Marseille Provence and they are unlikely to make an impression unless Daniel Diaz can reach new heights. Tirreno invites a solid looking Bardiani outfit plus Caja Rural, Bora Argon and CCC Sprandi Polkowice who all have riders capable of doing damage. We’ll get to see Androni too, who have the talented Rodolfo Torres.
The unknowns in Tirreno come down to what sort of sprinting we’ll see, if any, and which riders are carrying form. Peter Sagan is expected to ride and he and his Tinkoff team could look to seize control. Stage 2 is tough to call and could be one for a solo victor – we might even see some GC action. Paris-Nice, however, is the more unpredictable with riders such as Tony Gallopin, Fabio Felline, Luis Leon Sanchez and Philippe Gilbert given plenty of encouragement to attack. In addition, the Movistar team are packed with potential stage winners and most of Team Sky are strong enough to be leaders.
Pitching the races against eachother is almost meaningless – most fans will watch as much as they can of both. Paris-Nice maintains the feel of a slightly bigger race and may have the more intriguing route for 2016. Either way, the two races make for a great ten days of racing.