What do we count as the biggest sporting day in Australia? Is it the AFL grand final? Maybe the NRL grand final? What about Melbourne Cup?
Vincenzo Nibali (Cannondale) held off a fast finishing Christopher Froome (Sky) to claim overall victory at the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy yesterday.
After claiming the race lead on the previous day’s epic stage in Porto Sant’Elpidio, Nibali’s hold over the general classification was never seriously threatened despite the top five riders being within a minute of each other.
The Sicilian carried a 34-second lead into the final stage, a 9.2 kilometre individual time trial along the water front at San Benedetto del Tronto, but lost only 11 seconds to Froome to claim the event’s famed Sea Master trophy for the second time in as many years.
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) stole the third podium spot from Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) who was once again let down by his poor time trialling. He could only manage 36th place on the day while Froome, Nibali and Contador finished sixth, 12th and 17th respectively.
Not surprisingly the top placings went to the specialists.
Reigning world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won the stage in 10 minutes 25 seconds, six seconds ahead Adriano Malori (Lampre-Merida) while Costa Riccan rider Andrey Amador (Movistar) finish third at 10 seconds.
Malori, a former U23 world time trial champion and the current Italian national champion, had set a cracking time earlier in the day to wrestle the lead from one of the pre-stage favourites, Fabian Cancellara, bettering the RadioShack Leopard rider by six seconds.
It looked as though the Italian might hang on to win the stage as Martin trailed him by two seconds at the intermediate check point, but the world champion put in a scintillating second half to catch his minute man – Egoi Matinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – and turn his two second deficit into a six second advantage by the line.
Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) was the best of the Australians, finishing 30 seconds down in 16th place, while Cadel Evans (BMC) was an unremarkable 41st at 47 seconds.
This was Martin’s second individual time trial win for the season (the first was at the Volta ao Algarve) and it was a day that he had set himself for.
“I was looking for this day because the mountains weren’t for me,” he said after finishing.
“I had full focus for the day and I’m happy I won. It’s my first time here. My climbing has been getting better day by day, but I still need some time to improve.
“It’s still early in the season but I’m happy with the stage win. It’s been a good race for the team.”
For overall winner Nibali, the jewel in the crown of this year’s race was the quality of its field.
“I’m really happy with Tirreno-Adriatico,” he said.
“It’s something really important to win and it’s my first win of the season too. This is perhaps more important than my win last year because of riders like Rodriguez, Froome and Contador who came. It’s been a fantastic Tirreno.”
Road cycling is a fascinating sport to follow and the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico had it all.
The race will be best remembered for its atrocious weather and its gruesome penultimate stage in Porto Sant’Elpidio which saw some riders walking their bikes up the 27 percent gradient.
But there are many other stories that will live on as well. Emotional stories that offer up the human element of the sport.
Like the courage shown by BMC’s Taylor Phinney on that very same stage, when he found himself isolated after the entire grupetto he was riding with decided to abandon.
Phinney rode on, alone, and completed the stage only to be disqualified for finishing outside of the time limit.
In stark contrast, a disillusioned Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard) pulled out of the stage less than 50 kilometres in – before the hills and the bad weather struck.
We saw friendship between ex-team mates Peter Sagan (Cannodale) and Nibali as they worked together to beat the weather and their rivals to finish first and second on that epic stage six.
We saw genuine joy and relief as struggling Australian sprinter Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) finally overcame a spate of minor placings to beat the world’s fastest men across the line in the race’s first road stage.
We saw frustration boil over as Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) blamed his lead out train for costing him a stage victory. Froome then blamed gearing and clothing problems for the time loss that cost him the race lead.
We saw Sagan’s star continue to rise.
We saw the world’s best cyclists locked in battle. We saw them fighting on three fronts – against each other, against the elements and against what turned out to be a very challenging parcours.
We saw close, hard fought, believable racing with less than a minute separating the top five riders after seven days.
If this is a prelude to what we can expect at the Grand Tours, then we are in for one classic of a cycling season.
Bring it on.
2013 Tirreno-Adriatico: Final General Classification
1 – Vincenzo Nibali (Cannondale) 28:08:17
2 – Chris Froome (Sky) @ 23 seconds
3 – Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) @ 52 seconds
4 – Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) @ 53 seconds
5 – Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) @ 54 seconds