The biggest races over the next month
1 PARIS- NICE 9-16 March 2.WT, France
The 72nd edition of the ‘Race to the Sun’ is, at 1,447km, the longest since 1968 when it was still raced over nine rather than the current eight days. Richie Porte will be defending his title from last year and will have stronger opposition, with both Vincenzo Nibali and world champion Rui Costa set to start. The final stage Col d’Eze time trial, reinstated in 2012, has been axed in favour of a road stage that has that mountain as the final climb, which may hamper the Australian’s defence given his abilities against the clock.
2 TIRRENO-ADRIATICO 12-18 March 2.WT, Italy
The choice of whether to race this, the ‘Race of the Two Seas’ or Paris-Nice often comes down to rider preference on the rest they require between the finish of each and Milano-Sanremo the following Sunday. Sanremo moved from a Saturday for 2013, giving all riders an extra day, and the answer to the question of which race provides better preparation was emphatic. The podium – Gerald Ciolek, Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara – all completed Tirreno-Adriatico. The winner won’t be the rider of the last two editions – the Paris-Nice bound Vincenzo Nibali – and whoever succeeds him could well be the winner of the mountainous stage 4 to Cittareale.
3 MILANO-SANREMO 23 March 1.WT, Italy
The addition of a single climb, the 5km Pompeiana, has had a drastic effect on La Primavera. Sprinters have dominated the race in the past two decades but the new addition – which averages 5 per cent, hits 14 per cent in places and summits just 20.7km from the finish – tips the balance away from the fast men in favour of aggressive, powerful climbers. It’s shot to pieces the chances of 2009 winner Mark Cavendish doing so again, with the former world champion already confirming he’s skipping the race. Vincenzo Nibali has made it his first objective of the season, while last year’s runner-up Peter Sagan told Procycling that the route change may well have increased his chances of victory.
4 VOLTA A CATALUNYA 24-30 March 2.WT, Spain
A similar blueprint to last season’s race – no individual or team time trials, with two tough Pyrenean stages – will be music to the ears of Garmin-Sharp rider and Procycling diarist Dan Martin, whose win last year kicked off a breakthrough season.
5 OMLOOP HET NIEUWSBLAD 1 March 1.HC (men), 1.2 (women) Belgium
The curtain-raiser to the Belgian Classics season sees the return of one-time Ronde van Vlaanderen favourite, the Muur van Geraardsbergen, after a three-year absence. The women’s edition, held since 2008 on the same route, sees Procycling diarist Tiffany Cromwell defending her 2013 title.
6 STRADE BIANCHE 8 March, 1.1, Italy
It’s only seven years since the first edition of this Tuscan race but thanks to an imaginative parcours of sharp hills and white gravel roads, it radiates a general sense of having been around much longer. Cannondale dominated on their home roads last time, with Peter Sagan instrumental in Moreno Moser’s victory.
7 ROMA MAXIMA 9 March, 1.1, Italy
The race formerly known as the Giro del Lazio ended in bizarre fashion last season when Filippo Pozzatto lifted his arms in apparent victory, not knowing AG2R’s Blel Kadri had crossed the line 37 seconds previously. The Rome race has one of the best climaxes in cycling, with the Colosseum as a backdrop.
8 DWARS DOOR VLAANDEREN 26 March, 1.HC, Belgium
Upgraded to .HC last season, this semi-Classic ushers in the Flemish cycling week that crescendos with the Ronde, and often features many of the same climbs such as the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont. Italian Oscar Gatto won last year for Vini Fantini and has since moved to Cannondale to bolster their Classics squad.
9 BOELS RENTAL RONDE VAN DRENTHE 15 March, CDM, Netherlands
Marianne Vos easily out-sprinted compatriot Ellen Van Dijk here last season in a 132km cobble-heavy race that starts and finishes in Hoogeveen. It currently serves as the opener to the World Cup series and is a good guide to form ahead of the Ronde on the 6 April – the top three were the same in both.
10TOUR DE TAIWAN 9-13 March, 2.1, Taiwan
Its status was boosted in 2012 and 2014 sees Ivan Basso and his Cannondale outfit competing. Testing terrain, particularly on the east of the island, can meet challenging weather. It’s a decent alternative to Tirreno-Adriatico or Paris-Nice as Giro d’Italia preparation, though the travel time complicates matters.