Blazin' Saddles: 7 lessons learned from 2019 Tirreno-Adriatico
With Slovenia's Primoz Roglic leaving it to the last turn of the pedals to pip Britain's Adam Yates to the Tirreno-Adriatico trident, our blogger Felix Lowe mulls over some of the main talking points from an exciting week's action in the Race of the Two Seas.
Book-ended by time trials and hardly crossing any monster climbs, the route of the 54th edition of Tirreno-Adriatico didn't exactly promise the world, but it delivered drama and nail-biting tension in buckets right down to the last second.
Here are some lessons learned from a thrilling race in Italy...
Every second counts
After more than 1,000 kilometres of racing, it all came down to a third of a second at San Benedetto del Tronto as Primoz Roglic overturned a 25-second deficit on Adam Yates on the final day and snatch the blue jersey by the slenderest of margins.
Final day time trials can be a bit of a formality, but there was nothing anticlimactic about Stage 7's deciding 10,05km race against the clock. Victor Campenaerts may have kicked off his assault on Bradley Wiggins' Hour Record with a personal victory but all eyes were on the Slovenian Roglic and, then, the man in blue, Yates.
In the end, it came down to the final pedal strokes of more than 25 combined hours in the saddle – with the final winning gap actually considerably lower than the already paltry single second that went down on the official records.
With his brother Simon winning the ITT at Paris-Nice over the weekend, there were high hopes for Mitchelton-Scott's Yates. In the end, however, he was left to rue the two bonus seconds he conceded to Roglic at the end of stage 4 a few days earlier.
As for Roglic, the Slovenian put in his latest confirmation that he is one of the best one-week stage racers out there. Now the 29-year-old has to translate that over three weeks and contend for the crown in Grand Tours.
If at first (and second) you don't succeed…
Those retrospectively decisive aforementioned bonus seconds came when Roglic edged Yates for second place behind the Kazakh Alexey Lutsenko at Fossombrone after an enthralling end to the most exciting stage of the race.
Having broken clear of the leading group some 30km from the finish of the undulating stage, Lutsenko's lead never broke the minute barrier and the Astana rider crashed twice before being reeled in with just 600km remaining.
But the adrenaline – and his superior kick – saw the bloodied Lutsenko home ahead of Roglic, Yates and team-mate Jakob Fuglsang in one of those see-it-to-believe-it moments which had Eurosport commentator Carlton Kirby in raptures.
QuickStep and Astana in a league of their own
The team and individual time trials aside, all stages of the race were won either by Deceninck-QuickStep or Astana as the two season trailblazers continued to lay down their dominance this spring.
If Julian Alaphilippe was the favourite for the uphill sprint in Stage 2 at Pomarance – which he won at a canter ahead of Greg Van Avermaet and Alberto Bettiol – then the same could not be said in Stage 6 to Jesi.
But QuickStep made a mockery of their opponents by either making a complete hash of their lead-out – or striking with a bit of improvised brilliance from Alaphilippe. It was the Frenchman and team-mate Max Richeze who looked to be leading out the fellow QuickStepper Elia Viviani.
But when the Italian champion dropped back on Peter Sagan's wheel, Alaphilippe used the slight uphill drag to his benefit, powering clear to take his second scalp of the race as the Belgian team came over the line with three riders in the top six.
Although he looked a bit miffed at the finish, Viviani was soon graciously congratulating his team-mate – having himself picked up a fourth win of the season in Stage 3 to Foligno, where he out-kicked his big rivals, Sagan and Fernando Gaviria.
As for Astana, adding to back-to-back wins in Paris-Nice over the weekend, the in-form Dane Jakob Fuglsang won the Ardennes-style Stage 5 to Recanati with panache before Lutsenko added to the Kazakh haul one day later.
As things stand, Astana lead QuickStep by 19 wins to 18 in what is proving to be a thrilling duel between the two, ahem, winning-est teams of the WorldTour.
Beware an out-of-sorts Sagan
The former triple world champion's winless run now stretches back two months to the Tour Down Under after a week which saw him beaten by Elia Viviani in Stage 3 and finish only fifth in Stage 6.
With QuickStep duo Viviani and Julian Alaphilippe on such scintillating form – and Bora-Hansgrohe team-mate Sam Bennett firing on all cylinders – many have discounted Peter Sagan's chances of being Bora's number one on Saturday, let alone breaking his Milan-Sanremo duck.
But discount Sagan at your peril. The list of favourites for the first monument of the season may be longer than Conor Dunne's top tube, but Sagan is still somewhere near the top.
Rider safety at a crossroads
Mitchelton-Scott's victory in the opening TTT at Lido di Camaiore set the tone for the race and Adam Yates' push for the blue jersey. But there was less coverage of their seven-second win over Primoz Roglic's Jumbo-Visma team than there was generated by the sickening collision between two Bora-Hansgrohe riders and a pedestrian crossing the road at the worst possible moment.
Granted, the weather conditions were poor, the roads apparently empty and the point of impact close to a zebra crossing. But the man would never have put himself in harm's way had a policeman and a race steward been more alert to the danger and acted accordingly.
It was not the only incident on a sorry day for the race organisers, with the winning Mitchelton-Scott train itself almost derailed by a lady crossing the road with her dog.
RCS Sport – the same company behind the Giro d'Italia – should take heed. As they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Unfortunately, those were not the only unavoidable incidents during the race. In stage 5, on one of the repeated double-digit ramps of the finishing circuit, a race motorcycle came to a standstill before toppling over… on top of the Italian Michael Bresciani.
Let's hope RCS iron out these issues before the Giro in a couple of months.
If unsure, don't put your shirt on it
No one was hurt in another gaffe on the final day, but the mix-up over Primoz Roglic's blue jersey on the final podium was nevertheless embarrassing for the race organisers.
Clearly expecting Adam Yates to hold on to the win, the organisers presented Roglic with a blue jersey emblazoned with the Mitchelton-Scott logo of the man he'd just beaten by one second.
When Roglic was asked to don the jersey, he looked rather unimpressed – although he seemed to be on the verge of toeing the race line until Jakob Fuglsang shook his head and said 'no'.
Cue the offending garment being discarded on the floor until a second one – with a blank space for Roglic's absent Jumbo-Visma sponsor – was brought out.
Roglic used to be a ski jumper
We here at Eurosport are not sure if you guys knew this but— oh, you already know? Okay. Well, even so, here's Primoz Roglic to remind you himself of his old trade…