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GC hopefuls flock to Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico

MILAN (VN) — With three grand tour champions lining up next week, Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice will be key tune-ups for top GC hopefuls aiming for the Giro d’Italia and beyond.

The eight-day French contest, March 6-13, will welcome American Andrew Talansky and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Richie Porte (BMC), Geraint Thomas (Sky), Tom Dumoulin (Giant – Alpecin), and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale).

Australian Porte won last year, but he showed at the Tour of Oman that he may not be at his best this time around. Instead, the winner could be Frenchman Romain Bardet, second to Nibali in Oman, Volta ao Algarve winner Geraint Thomas, or two-time Paris-Nice victor Contador.

Paris-Nice is the second WorldTour race of 2016 after January’s Tour Down Under. It cuts through France’s heartland and ends along the Côte d’Azur, home to several American cyclists. This year, the race includes a summit finish to La Madone d’Utelle in Nice’s backlands and an intense final stage with several climbs in and around Nice.

Starting three days later, running March 9-15, Tirreno will travel from the Tuscan to the Marche coasts. American Tejay van Garderen (BMC) will race alongside Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Mikel Landa and Wout Poels (Sky), Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale), Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha).

“The Tirreno-Adriatico is one of my main goals this season along with the Giro d’Italia,” Italian Nibali told VeloNews en route to winning the Tour of Oman.

Nibali won Tirreno-Adriatico in 2013 before taking the Giro title later in May. The next year, he won the Tour de France. This year, he is aiming for the Giro title instead of the Tour.

“I prepared pretty much like 2013 this time around. The only thing is that we put in this altitude camp that I did before Oman [in Tenerife]. In Europe, it was too cold so we tried to go abroad to the Canary Islands, where the weather is for sure good.

“Since I turned pro, I always tried to ride strongly from the start until the end of the season. In the last two years, I began slowly because the Tour was on my radar. I was more relaxed and didn’t think about starting very strongly. Thinking about the Giro, your mentality changes, how you approach the Giro.”

Nibali will be the favorite to win the seven-day race, which includes a summit finish to Monte San Vicino. Van Garderen, Poels, and Valverde will be Nibali’s greatest threats. Van Garderen just won the time trial and placed second overall in the Ruta del Sol behind Valverde.

What about Chris Froome and Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintana? They will race Spain’s Volta a Catalunya stage race starting March 21. Both cyclists are taking a longer racing break after starting their season in January. Froome spent several days at a high-altitude camp in South Africa with American Ian Boswell.

Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico will also see classics men preparing for Milano-Sanremo the following Saturday, March 19. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), André Greipel (Lotto – Soudal), and Michael Matthews (Orica – GreenEdge) will race in France. World champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), as well as Caleb Ewan (Orica – Greenedge) will participate in Italy.

Taylor Phinney (BMC) will also take part in Tirreno-Adriatico. It will mark his WorldTour return, his first race at this level since the 2014 Paris-Roubaix and his injury in that year’s U.S. national championships. He already began his 2016 season with two smaller French stage races in February.