Omega Pharma Quickstep got the best possible start when they won the opening team time trial and placed Mark Cavendish in the blue leader’s jersey. Now it’s time for the season’s first showdown between Cavendish and Andre Greipel.
Depending on how stage 3 evolves this could be the only stage for the pure sprinters in this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico and naturally, no one wants to miss out. The stage covers 232 km from San Vincenzo to Indicatore and has a very tricky finish. With 1200 meters to go the peloton crosses a railroad overpass while turning left into a roundabout. The weather forecast shows light rain all day long and with many top sprinters in the race - plus GC contenders who want to stay up front - it will almost be a miracle if nobody goes down in that corner. Luckily the riders will have a chance to study the finish as the final circuit of 12,4 km will done five times.
As stated in the beginning, this is the long-awaited dual between Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel. It’s the first time this season the two super stars are going up against each other mano-a-mano and it’s almost impossible to pick a winner. Lotto-Belisol and Andre Greipel have been phenomenal so far this season with an outstanding leadout train, but Mark Cavendish showed in Tour of Qatar that he doesn’t need a leadout to win.
Lotto-Belisol probably won’t have much to say in the overall classification as Jelle Vanendert already is one minute down after the TTT, and without any riders to win the medium stages in this race, Andre Greipel is their only hope. So far, Lotto-Belisol’s leadout train has been impeccable and I don’t see why that should change now. Yes, there are many talented sprinters at the starting line but none of them has a leadout train like Greipel do. With Kaisen, Sieberg, Hansen, Roelandts, Reynes and Henderson to lead him out, Andre Greipel simply can get it any better.
The only one with a kick powerful enough to get a jump on Greipel is Mark Cavendish. No other sprinter can match Cavendish’ kick in the final 200 meters and in the blue leader’s jersey, Cavendish will be eager to show who the best sprinter in the world is. Personally, I think Andre Greipel will win this stage, but if Mark Cavendish manages to position himself on Greipel’s wheel, he might have a chance to surprise the German Gorilla with an early kick.
The way I see the rest of the field are only fighting for the 3rd place on this stage. Of course, both Greipel and Cavendish can get it wrong, but with only one big chance to win a stage, none of them can afford to miss this opportunity. And yes, Peter Sagan is here too, but even though he seems to be flying these days, I don’t see him beating Greipel nor Cavendish in a pancake flat finish. Maybe he can use his amazing bike handling skills in the rainy conditions to gain some positions in the final, but outsprinting the two big favorites? I doubt it…
It makes it difficult to pick a joker with so many strong sprinters in the race, but I would like to point out Radioshack’s sprinter, Giacomo Nizzolo. The young Italian has started out this season very well but is still without a stage win. He was beaten by Greipel in Tour Med and by Bos in Volta Algarve but last week he won the sprint behind the winning break in G.P. Camaiore. Nizzolo can count on excellent support from Danilo Hondo - who used to leadout Petacchi in the mass sprints - and even though Hondo isn’t much of a leadout anymore, nobody knows their way around the front in the final kilometers like the German veteran. I think Giacomo Nizzolo will have an excellent season this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the podium on stage 2.
Winnerpick: Andre Greipel