Big name sprinters like Tom Boonen opted for Tirreno-Adriatico over Paris-Nice due to the UCI-ASO power struggle
What a week it has been in France. High winds, tons of rain and tough winter conditions have characterized the French stage race, and the list of GC contenders has changed from day to day. The Norwegian, Thor Hushovd, took the first yellow jersey after a strong prologue showing, before the young climbing sensation, Robert Gesink of the Rabobank team, earned the jersey on the slopes of the fearsome Mont Ventoux. Aussie Cadel Evans won the day on the "Giant of Provence," but Gesink got the yellow jersey, and sits 30+ seconds ahead in the race for the overall.
Steegmans loved the rainy conditions last week and took advantage with two stage wins at Paris-NiceThe remaining stages of Paris-Nice are difficult, and there should be plenty of chances for the field to attack Gesink and his Rabobank team. There are only a few riders left in the GC picture, as most of the pre-race favorites are well out of contention. Gerolsteiner's Davide Rebellin, coming off an excellent ride on Ventoux, is still very much in contention, and will probably try to attack a few times over the weekend in hopes of weakening Gesink. Fellow Italian Rinaldo Nocentini of the AG2R team will also be on the prowl, looking for opportunities to steal time from the lanky Dutchman Gesink. Both riders are just over 30 seconds behind Gesink, and each have the characteristics to win on the final two stages, which are both hilly.
Cadel won atop Ventoux, signalling his good early season form, but is out of the GC situationAfter the Italian duo comes Yaroslav Popovych of the Silence-Lotto team. He lost valuable time on the Ventoux stage, but is the best climber of the remaining contenders at Paris-Nice. Gesink has been super strong thus far in the season though, so it will be hard to wrestle the leader's jersey away from him. All signs point to a landmark victory for the youngster, as he climbs (no pun intended) higher and higher among cycling's elite.
The paris-Nice overall didn't work out for Millar, who got sick and abandonedMeanwhile, over in Italy, the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race winds down ahead of the year's first classic, Milan San Remo. The racing has been lively in Tirreno, and current leader Niklas Axelsson holds a slight lead over Enrico Gasparotto of the Barloworld team. Neither Axelson or "Gaspa" will win the overall however, as a crucial time trial on Sunday will no doubt determine the race's overall winner. There are many time trial specialists in good position ahead of the crucial fifth stage, and each will lay it on the line in hopes of securing the prestigious early season stage race title.
Not everyone has been happy in Tirreno, as Ricardo Ricco demonstrated on Friday"The Killer," Danilo Di Luca, lurks in fifth place overall at only 32 seconds back, and looks to have good form. He is a decent time trialist and when on form can compete with the best. Expect a good ride on Sunday from the embattled defending Giro d'Italia champ. Young Thomas Lövkvist, the current Swedish time trial champion, should put in a good effort and keep himself towards the top of the classification for team High Road, and Gerolsteinier's Markus Fothen is a good time trialist and should show well on Sunday. The biggest name to watch on Sunday however will be the two-time defending world time trial champion Fabian Cancellera of the CSC team. The big swiss rider has been great all year and should have a good chance at taking both the stage and overall lead in Tirreno-Adriatico in Sunday's time trial. With his recent win at L'Eroica, Cancellara would love nothing more than to take a stage and an overall victory at Tirreno ahead of his bigger objectives for the year, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Cancellara will be eager to try to win the time trial and overall at Tirreno-AdriaticoBoth stage races this weekend should provide fans with some action-packed racing and good indications for the rest of the season. Watch Paris-Nice to see who is climbing well ahead of the Wallonian classics and check Tirreno-Adriatico for an indicator of the favorites for next week's Milan-San Remo sprint fest. Some of the best in the world are mixing it up in the early season, as the year's major objectives draw closer and closer.