Chris Froome (Sky) ★★★★★ The Brit arrives fresh from his Tour of Oman win. His GC victory was made all the more impressive by who was behind him. Not only did he win the Middle East stage race — his first as a professional — but he also left the likes of Contador, Nibali, and Evans behind.
He rides again as Sky’s team leader and paves his way towards the Tour de France. A win here would further underline his status as a favorite in July. Backup will be important, however. “Froome Dog” can rely on Joe Dombrowski, Dario Cataldo, and the Colombian duo of Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Henao.
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) ★★★★ The grand tour great started his season fighting, winning a stage in the Tour de San Luís and pushing Froome to the edge in Oman. The duel between the Spaniard and Kenya-born Brit on the penultimate day of the latter made for thrilling racing.
The Spaniard is expected to bring his same A-game to Italy. Unlike Froome, he’s won grand tours before. Missing the spring of 2012 during his ban for a clenbuterol positive at the 2010 Tour, Contador hasn’t officially won a week-long stage race since the 2010 Vuelta a Castilla y León.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) ★★★★ The defending champion does not look quite as brilliant as he did at this point last year. With his new team and his Giro d’Italia aim, the Nibali seems to be taking a different approach. Being on top form in early March would be a sign of trouble for the season’s first grand tour, now just two months away.
The confidence and experience he gained in dealing with Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Horner in 2012 will help the Sicilian. “I’m trying to improve and improve towards the Giro,” Nibali said last month. “If I can pull off a win, we’d all be happy.”
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) ★★★ World TT champion Tony Martin conquered the Volta ao Algarve last month using his combined time trial and climbing strength.
Tirreno-Adriatico offers plenty of time trial kilometers for Martin to stake his claim for the overall. As he showed in Algarve, he is more than capable of managing himself in the mountains. For the German, it will be a matter of limiting his losses to Froome and the other climbers at Prati di Tivo and on the steep ramps later in the week.
Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) ★★★ The Spaniard used to come to Tirreno for the Montelupone climb. He won it two times. He now lines up in these stages races with a real chance to win the overall. Rodríguez climbed well in Oman, where, thankfully for him, there were no time trials. He’ll suffer against the clock in Tirreno, but perhaps pull off a podium finish.
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) ★★★ Despite age, the Aussie seems to be coming on well. He proved in Oman that he was busy in his long, six-month off-season. Don’t expect him to match his 2011 result, but a stage win and top five could be in the works as he edges closer to July.
Others to watch
Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco) ★★
Moreno Moser (Cannondale) ★★
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) ★★
Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) ★
Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) ★
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing)
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp)
Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard)
Joe Dombrowski (Sky)