The Prestige of Paris-Nice vs Tirreno-Adriatico: A Comparative Analysis
A couple of weeks ago, I arrived back in Bath for the first time since the beginning of December, following months of lockdown prompting an extended delay to my return to university. Although in-person teaching remains a distant memory, we were finally allowed to make the venture back to our 'university homes' and so ensued a relatively quick journey down south. Despite being away for over three months, as we pulled up to the house my mind was lost in another world- in particular the Italian world of cycling and Tirreno-Adriatico. Not wanting to divert my attention for a second away from stage 4's summit finish on Prati di Tivo, we remained seated in the car for the final 15 minutes of action as Tadej Pogačar unyielded yet more magic on the climbs.
Tadej Pogačar has started the season in blistering form, taking the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico in a matter of months. © Getty Images Sport
It is safe to say, over the past month the cycling world has been bedazzled by seven days of gripping action at Tirreno-Adriatico, with not one day failing to disappoint. As predicted prior to the race, the 'big three' hegemonic forces managed to come away with at least one stage victory each- those forces being Julian Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. Accompanying them on the top step of the podiums were Tadej Pogačar on stage 4 and the surprising tale of Mads Würtz Schmidt from stage 6's breakaway. Although Sam Bennett and Primož Roglič led the way in France, the stage winners at Paris-Nice were not on the same extraterrestrial level to those in Italy and the past month has shone a spotlight on these two fantastic stage races. In particular, the question has been bandied around regarding which of these two races carries the most prestige. In response, we have decided to undertake a comparative analysis to find a judgement- which race is the more prestigious?
The dependent variable shall be the prestige of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, whilst our independent variables will be the winners of the races, the startlists of the races and the scheduling of the races. These independent variables will dictate the dependent variable- hence they will dictate the prestige of each race- allowing us to reach a conclusion over which carries more prestige at this current moment in time. For those interested in our method of comparison, we shall be using the 'most similar systems design', in that both case studies are similar in all dimensions but one- being their prestige. Both races have tended to overlap for many years now and both take the shape of a week-long stage race, acting as mini Grand Tours for those partaking.
Over the course of the following article we shall display that although Paris-Nice has historically held a much higher prestige than Tirreno-Adriatico, over the past couple of decades the prestige of Tirreno-Adriatico has risen, whilst that of Paris-Nice has plateaued. As a result, Tirreno-Adriatico now holds equal prestige to that of Paris-Nice, if not actually being held in higher regard.
Independent Variable 1: The Winners of the Race
Grand Tour Champions
When debating the prestige of stage races, an easy place to start would be by glancing back over the history of the riders to have won them. In doing so, we can judge the level of the races based upon the level of the riders to have achieved success. Therefore, we began our investigation by tracking the history of the GC winners at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, and inspecting how many of them were, or have been, Grand Tour winners in their career.
There is a weakness in this approach, given that the winners we are analysing were not necessarily Grand Tour victors prior to winning either race, but we believe it gives an indication as to the calibre of riders, whether they had won a Grand Tour prior, or would subsequently taste success in a Grand Tour later in their career.
By looking through the lens of this independent variable, it is clear to see a trend in how the races have evolved over time. Paris-Nice certainly has the edge over Tirreno-Adriatico in terms of its history, having first come into existence in 1933, an edition won by the incredibly talented Alfons Schepers. The Belgian great would win three editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège in his career, as well as bagging the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1933. The first ten editions of Paris-Nice would be won by solid riders in their own right, but only brought two victors who would be Grand Tour champions by the end of their career- the first being Roger Lapébie in 1937. In fact, Lapébie became the first man to win both Paris-Nice and the Tour de France in the same season, something which does not occur very often, with only three riders having done so since 1995.
The first ten editions of Paris-Nice were the opening flames of a race that would soon become a staple of early-season racing, however it's tenth edition did not arrive until 1952, almost two decades after Schepers beat fellow Belgian Louis Hardiquest in 1933. This was down to a multitude of factors, be it the rivalry with the Tour de France or the outbreak of World War Two, which halted major bike racing across the continent. Created by Albert Lejeune, Paris-Nice was emblematic of many of cycling's oldest races, having been brought into creation to sell newspapers. Lejeune was the owner of a string of newspapers, namely Le Petit Journal in Paris and Le Petit Nice in the seaside city of Nice. Just as is the case today, the first edition was run in early March, designed to bridge between the popular track season and the return of road racing in early Spring. Despite receiving a positive reception prior to the outbreak of war, Lejeune would begin working with L'Auto and published sympathetic material towards the Nazi Party in Germany, believing that the French and Germans could co-exist. It was not the wisest move for the founder of Paris-Nice, resulting in his execution following the liberation of France. As a result, L'Auto was disbanded and Paris-Nice was thrown into question. The newspaper was quasi-resurrected in 1946, as the organiser of the Tour de France, Jacques Goddet, was allowed to begin publishing L'Équipe in 1946, the natural successor to L'Auto, for whom his father Victor Goddet was the newspaper's first financial investor. Fermo Camellini would win the resurrected Paris-Nice in May 1946, but the race was to disappear until 1951 after newspaper Ce Soir (who had joined L'Auto in organising the race in 1939) could not ensure the race was financially viable. The 8th Paris-Nice in 1946 was to be the final 'Paris-Nice' until 1954, with the revived race in 1951 being termed 'Paris-Côte d'Azur'. This was a reflection of the desire to bring tourism not only to Nice, but to the entirety of the Côte d'Azur on the Mediterranean coast.
Although serving as the brainchild of Jean Medecin, the mayor of Nice, the revived Paris-Côte d'Azur had journalist Jean Leulliot as its race director. The significance of Leulliot shines bright in our tale, with Leulliot directing the French national team at the 1937 Tour de France, an edition won by the aforementioned Roger Lapébie. Lapébie would be the first Paris-Nice winner who would also win a Grand Tour, but he would not be its last, as the race gained extraordinary popularity and prestige over the coming decades following its 1951 revival. Leulliot and his company, Monde Six, would buy the race in 1957 and Lapébie's former boss became Paris-Nice's race organiser for almost 30 years. During this time, Paris-Nice raised remarkably in its stature, coinciding with the 'Golden Age' of cycling and the ensuing reign of Jacques Anquetil. The so-called 'Golden Age' of cycling included the likes of Louison Bobet, Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Hugo Koblet and Ferdi Kubler, but only Bobet (1952) would find success at Paris-Nice. Louison Bobet would be the first major Grand Tour star to taste success at Paris-Nice, but he would also provide a fitting tale to the 1955 edition, where he helped his younger brother Jean achieve overall victory. Whilst Jean Bobet was standing on the top step of the podium in Nice, 1955 also saw the first Brit to finish inside the top ten, after Brian Robinson achieved an 8th placing and indicated that the Les Six Jours de la Route (Six Days of the Road) was attracting a more eclectic peloton, with fellow Brit Bob Maitland also finishing inside the top fifteen.
Louison Bobet was Paris-Nice's first major champion, but it was to be Jacques Anquetil who would lift the race to heavier heights. Between 1952 and 1962, Anquetil would win Paris-Nice twice and by the end of 1962, he would already be a three-time Tour de France champion. The prestige of Paris-Nice was cemented in 1966, as the race played host to the era-defining duel between Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor, two riders who had split the French nation in half as they went toe to toe in a bid to achieve success. By now turned into an eight-day stage race, Raymond Poulidor won stage 6's time trial to L'Isle-Rousse, but he was overhauled by Anquetil on the final day into Nice, sealing his fifth and final Paris-Nice victory. Helped by the dominance of Jacques Anquetil, between 1962 and 1972 Paris-Nice was won eight times by a Grand Tour winner- again, this being a rider to have won a Grand Tour in their career, but not necessarily prior to Paris-Nice success. Alongside Jacques Anquetil as Grand Tour/Paris-Nice winners between its 20th and 30th editions were Jan Janssen in 1964, Rolf Wolfshohl in 1968, Raymond Poulidor in 1972 and 'The Cannibal' Eddy Merckx. For British fans, the 1967 edition of Paris-Nice will hold particular significance, having been won by Tom Simpson, who would be the only British winner until Bradley Wiggins in 2012.
Tom Simpson would win Paris-Nice in 1967, before ultimately succumbing to his death on Mont Ventoux later that summer. © Getty Images
The race's prestige was well established by the victories of Jacques Anquetil, but as the 1960s came to a close Anquetil's legacy was built upon by the young Belgian upstart, Eddy Merckx. The 1969 Paris-Nice brought a two-fold mark of the new era, serving as both Merckx's first victory (ahead of Jacques Anquetil in third), but also as the first time that the Col d'Èze hill was used as the race's finale. Merckx would win the final day time trial on Col d'Èze ahead of Raymond Poulidor, but 'Poupou' would gain his revenge in 1972. After a string of three Merckx victories in succession, Poulidor poetically beat Merckx in the final day time trial, securing his first victory at The Race to the Sun. Retaining his title in 1973, Raymond Poulidor was yet another Paris-Nice winner cum Grand Tour champion, with the loveable Frenchman briefly breaking his second-place hoodoo in 1964 by winning La Vuelta a España. Between Paris-Nice's 11th and 20th edition, it was only twice won by a Grand Tour champion, Jacques Anquetil on both occasions. However, as the 1960s developed and the reign of Anquetil merged into the reign of Merckx, Paris-Nice was won by a Grand Tour champion on nine occasions between its 21st and 30th edition. The spell of racing between 1963-1972 established The Race to the Sun as a must-see early-season stage race, affirming its prestige as the largest stage race in cycling (not counting the Grand Tours that is).
As Poulidor's 1973 victory brought about the next decade of Paris-Nice, the prestige of the race only grew further, as seven of the next ten winners were also Grand Tour champions in their careers. Between 1973 and 1982, Poulidor, Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly all won Paris-Nice on one occasion, whilst Joop Zoetemelk won three editions (1974, 1975 and 1979). It is here in our story that Tirreno-Adriatico first comes into prominence. In 1975, Paris-Nice was won by Joop Zoetemelk and had established itself as the greatest stage race on the calendar. That year also brought the 10th edition of Tirreno-Adriatico, won by Roger De Vlaeminck- known to me as Mr. Tirreno-Adriatico. Just as Paris-Nice has Sean Kelly- more on that anon- Tirreno-Adriatico has Roger De Vlaeminck. By 16th March 1977, De Vlaeminck had won six straight editions of Tirreno-Adriatico, four of these victories coming in the race's first ten editions. Although we will touch on De Vlaeminck's Monument successes in a short while, his dominance of the first decade of Tirreno-Adriatico ensured that none of the race's first ten editions were won by a Grand Tour champion. 1978 brought Tirreno-Adriatico its first Grand Tour champion as the overall winner, as Giuseppe Saronni pipped Knut Knudsen to the title. Saronni would go on to win both the 1979 and 1983 editions of the Giro d'Italia. In fact, the second decade of Tirreno-Adriatico would see two wins apiece shared between two Italian rivals. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Saronni and Francesco Moser would to-and-fro over the Giro d'Italia title, with the two riders vehemently despising each other- the bad blood still exists to this day! They each won two editions of Tirreno-Adriatico, with Joop Zoetemelk joining the pair to make it five Grand Tour winners of the race between 1976-1985.
As the vulnerable country boy in opposition to the urban hegemony of Jacques Anquetil, Raymond Poulidor was beloved the world over. © Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Tirreno-Adriatico had announced itself to the world in its second decade in existence, but would soon fall away from the spotlight as a race won by Grand Tour champions, with Tony Rominger being the only Tirreno-Adriatico victor cum Grand Tour champion between 1986 and 1995. On the other hand, Paris-Nice maintained its remarkable consistency as the race that all three-week riders wanted to win. Between 1983 and 1992, Jean-François Bernard was the only winner of Paris-Nice to have never won a Grand Tour in his career, with the supposed heir to Bernard Hinault's throne never quite living up to his billing. Interestingly enough, Bernard Hinault is the only five-time winner of the Tour de France to have never won Paris-Nice; a second place finish in 1978 was the best that the Frenchman could muster, with his ambitions often being focused later on in the season.
The astonishing feat of nine winners of Paris-Nice between its 41st and 50th edition having also been Grand Tour champions is quite obviously aided by the dominance of Sean Kelly, the Irish winner of the Vuelta a España in 1988. Whilst racing at Tirreno-Adriatico in 1981, Kelly heard of his younger Irish brethren Stephen Roche winning Paris-Nice. It had been Roche's first attempt at the race. In response, Kelly agreed to return to the mentorship of Jean de Gribaldy and join the Sem-France Loire-Campagnolo team ahead of 1982. Paris-Nice was a race well suited to Kelly, with lots of bonus seconds on offer at intermediate sprints and finish lines. Enticed by the victory of Roche in 1981, Kelly ventured to Paris-Nice in 1982, the first major stage race of the year. Unlike Roche, it was not to be Kelly's first appearance at the race, having helped Freddy Maertens to win the title in 1977, whilst King Kelly was still a youngster at the almighty Flandria team. Somewhat appropriately in our tale, the Irishman took his first white jersey (Paris-Nice leader's jersey) having beaten Roger De Vlaeminck- Mr. Tirreno-Adriatico- in a sprint. Going into the final day of the 1982 Paris-Nice four seconds adrift of 1980 winner Gilbert Duclos-Lassale, Kelly overturned this deficit by winning both stages on the final Sunday; King Kelly would win seven straight editions of Paris-Nice between 1982 and 1988. Kelly's last victory came in the 46th edition of Paris-Nice and preceding Jean-François Bernard's victory in the 50th edition, the Race to the Sun was won by Miguel Indurain on two occasions and Tony Rominger once in 1991. 1983-1992 was the last great decade of Paris-Nice in terms of race winners cum Grand Tour champions. After this, the calibre of Paris-Nice winners notably declined and in modern times it has certainly become less of a race won by Grand Tour champions. Paris-Nice had a definition throughout the reign of King Kelly, something it has subsequently lacked. Despite enjoying success under the stewardship of Josette Leulliot, following her father Jean's death in 1982, the financial burden became all too great for the Leulliot family as the century came to a close. Seen as more of a hindrance for the Côte d'Azur rather than a specialty, with the rise of tourism in the area, the family were struggling to make the race financially viable and sold to former Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon in 2000. His stewardship was not a success and he lacked the sufficient experience required, forcing the race into the hands of the ASO in 2002, for a fraction of the price that had been quoted by the Leulliot family just two years prior. The era of King Kelly saw the race in its pomp, with an independent streak it had maintained since its early days of vying with the Tour de France- it was initially envisaged as a worldwide race. Although Kelly wore the white leader's jersey with pride, it was to be the final years of a dying legacy, with the race coming very much under the wing of the Tour de France since the sale to the ASO. With leader's jerseys that now reflect those in the Tour de France, Paris-Nice has lost its independence and become a baby brother to the Grand Boucle, rather than a behemoth in its own right.
King Kelly won seven straight Paris-Nice titles throughout the 1980s, going on to win the Vuelta a España in 1988, some 45 days after victory in the race he mastered. © L'Équipe
After the 50th edition won by Bernard, the next decade of Paris-Nice started well, with the next five editions being won by Grand Tour champions (again, in their career, not necessarily at the time)- Alex Zülle, Tony Rominger and Laurent Jalabert (1995, 1996, 1997). However, between 1998 and 2001, the four editions of Paris-Nice were not won by Grand Tour champions and 1998 serves as an obvious indicator where the prestige of Paris-Nice declined throughout the early 200os. From 1998 to 2007, the only Grand Tour champion cum winner of Paris-Nice was the controversial Alexandre Vinokourov, who tasted success in 2002 and 2003. The 2000s were a decade beguiled by unrest at Paris-Nice, beginning with the to-and-fro of ownership; Laurent Fignon took over the organisation of the race in 2000, succeeding the Leulliot family, but he only lasted for two seasons before selling the race to ASO. The 2003 edition saw the tragic death of Cofidis rider Andrei Kivilev, whose death of brain trauma prompted the UCI to make helmet wearing compulsory at all races. The 2008 edition was marred with controversy throughout, with the preceding power struggle between the UCI and ASO resulting in the threat that all teams who started the race would be suspended by the UCI. Although the issue was resolved, it was an extraordinary moment that saw the teams' association (AIGGCP) having to hold a vote over whether to take the start line, to which a majority voted yes. In the race itself, only 86 riders of the 160 that started actually finished the race, with almost 40 riders abandoning during the final stage to Nice. The race was finally won by Davide Rebellin, with the subsequent edition being won by Luis León Sánchez, two riders who have never come close to winning a Grand Tour.
In contrast, 2009 saw the first Tirreno-Adriatico winner cum Grand Tour champion since 2000, as Michele Scarponi tasted victory ahead of Stefano Garzelli, who would win Tirreno-Adriatico the following season. Scarponi won the 2011 Giro d'Italia, whilst Garzelli had won the 2000 Giro d'Italia as a youngster. The turn of the new decade triggered a new dawn at Tirreno-Adriatico, with all the winners between 2009 and 2015 having won Grand Tours in their career- Scarponi, Garzelli, Cadel Evans, Vincenzo Nibali (x2), Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana. The past six editions of Tirreno-Adriatico have brought a couple of surprise winners, Greg Van Avermaet in 2016 and Michał Kwiatkowski in 2018, but the other four winners have all been Grand Tour champions throughout their career- Quinana (2017), Primož Roglič (2019), Simon Yates (2020) and recently, Tadej Pogačar. This decade has brought mixed fortunes for Paris-Nice in terms of its allure for Grand Tour contenders. Bradley Wiggins won Paris-Nice en route to winning the Tour de France in 2012, but Tony Martin won in 2011 and Richie Porte beat a weak GC field in 2013, prior to 2014's unusual edition. In 2014, ASO organised a route that included no time trial or summit finishes, making it very much a sequence of Classics-style races. Consequently, Carlos Betancur won the GC ahead of Rui Costa and Tirreno-Adriatico sensed an opportunity. Alongside the unusual route for Paris-Nice, 2014 brought a sequence of race cancellations that reduced the opportunities for rider seeking Grand Tour preparation. As a result, Tirreno-Adriatico decided to make a serious bid at attracting the greatest GC riders, with Alberto Contador winning the race ahead of Nairo Quintana; the Colombian would win the Giro d'Italia that May and Contador would win the Vuelta later on in the season. Despite returning to a more traditional route from 2015 onwards, Paris-Nice has opened Pandora's box and ever since then, Tirreno-Adriatico has arguably been the front and centre of the battle plan for those targeting success at the Grand Tours.
The 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico provided a snorting response to ASO's unusual Paris-Nice, with Alberto Contador pipping Nairo Quintana to the title. © AFP/Yuzuru Sunada
Since 2016, four winners of Tirreno-Adriatico have also been Grand Tour champions, whilst since 2013, only Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal have won both Paris-Nice and a Grand Tour. No matter who wins next year's Paris-Nice, the latest 10 editions of The Race to the Sun will have yielded the fewest winners cum Grand Tour champions since the 1950s, where only Jacques Anquetil won both Paris-Nice and a Grand Tour between 1953-1962. Of the 16 editions of Tirreno-Adriatico since 2006, 11 of the winners have been Grand Tour champions in their career, marking a significant moment for the race and quite obviously boosting its prestige to levels never previously attained. Alongside the 2014 mistake to alter the format of Paris-Nice, this has arguably elevated Tirreno-Adriatico above Paris-Nice as the race to target for riders challenging for Grand Tour victories. Whilst Primož Roglič was fighting for Paris-Nice success this year against the likes of Max Schachmann and Ion Izagirre, Tadej Pogačar was battling for Tirreno-Adriatico against the likes of Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, whilst Wout van Aert proved a more than capable foe. If we were to debate the prestige of these two races by looking at the winners who have also been Grand Tour champions in their career, we would say that there has been a defining shift over the past two decades, as Tirreno-Adriatico has arguably levelled, if not exceeded, the prestige of Paris-Nice. It will remain to be seen if Paris-Nice can be conquered by an increasing number of Grand Tour champions over the coming years- after all, Primož Roglič was set to win this year's edition if it were not for a final day marred by crashes- but for now, Tirreno-Adriatico has certainly got the edge over Paris-Nice in terms of its allure for three-week GC riders. This is not an irreversible shift however, and one must remember that 52% of the winners of Paris-Nice have also won a Grand Tour, whilst that figure still remains at only 36% for Tirreno-Adriatico.
We must remember that this is but one independent variable in our comparative analysis, and more importantly, we have yet to finish exploring this independent variable to its full extent. Although it is important to assess the calibre of the races' winners in terms of GC riders, given that these races are not always won by three-week riders, we must also weigh up how many editions of each race have been won by riders who would win a Monument in their career. We are not the judge and jury of which type of race is more valuable for the riders, be it a Monument success or a Grand Tour success, therefore we shall also judge Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico on how many of their champions have also won a Monument. For the purposes of clarity, we will not include Strade Bianche as a Monument and will instead be sticking with the traditional definition of the races which serve as Monuments, namely Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Roubaix, Giro di Lombardia, Milan-Sanremo and Ronde van Vlaanderen. By looking back at the Monument/stage race victors, we believe it matches the patterns that we have mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. Paris-Nice has historically been a race for the Grand Tour type riders and has served as an important mark on their calendar, but in recent years it has won by Classics-type riders more often and has resulted in a larger number of the victors having also won a Monument in their career. In contrast, Tirreno-Adriatico has remained pretty consistent throughout its history as a race that can be won by Classics-type riders, with the recent change to a route suited more to Grand Tour riders also occasionally offering the opportunity to the likes of Greg Van Avermaet, who tasted success in 2016, the same year that he first won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Greg Van Avermaet out-sprinted Peter Sagan to take the race lead of Tirreno-Adriatico in 2016. © AFP/Yuzuru Sunada
Starting life as a three-day event in the face of an Italian racing scene dominated by the north, the first edition began in Rome and was marketed as 'Tre Giorni del Sud'- Three Days of the South. Its first race was won by Dino Zandegù in 1966, with the Italian winning Ronde van Vlaanderen the following year. His successor to the Tirreno-Adriatico throne was equally a gifted one-day racer, with Franco Bitossi winning both Tre Giorni del Sud and the Giro di Lombardia in 1967. The fifth edition of Tirreno-Adriatico brought its first foreign winner in the Belgian Antoon Houbrechts, but the subsequent Belgian winner in 1972 would elevate the race to its grandest heights yet. As mentioned previously, beginning in 1972, Roger De Vlaeminck won six straight editions of Tirreno-Adriatico and despite not being a Grand Tour champion, De Vlaeminck was a champion in his own right, establishing himself as one of the greatest Classics riders of all time. Later in the year following his first victory at Tirreno-Adriatico, De Vlaeminck claimed his first of four Paris-Roubaix titles, or more appropriately- his first of four cobbles. Two days after taking his second consecutive Tirreno-Adriatico title in 1973, the Belgian won Milan-Sanremo to add a third Monument to his Palmarès, having won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1970. By the end of his career, 'The Gypsy' had won all five Monuments, adding to his single win at La Doyenne with: 4x Paris-Roubaix, 3x Milan-Sanremo, 1x Ronde van Vlaanderen and 2x Giro di Lombardia. By his final victory at Tirreno-Adriatico in 1977, De Vlaeminck had become Mr. Tirreno-Adriatico and established the race as the perfect preparation race for the Monuments that followed in the racing calendar, including Milan-Sanremo which was, more often than not, run within a week of Tirreno-Adriatico. The 1979 Milan-Sanremo was a particularly sweet affair for De Vlaeminck, with the Belgian riding for the gelato company Gis. After finishing 6th in the 1979 Tirreno-Adriatico, the boss of GIS approached De Vlaeminck on the eve of Milan-Sanremo, with the promise of gifting the Belgian his Ferrari should he taste victory at La Classicissima. With the sweet incentive on the table, De Vlaeminck won the following day's Monument ahead of Giuseppe Saronni, before driving home from Sanremo in his brand new Ferrari- not a bad day's earner!
Roger De Vlaeminck riding for the gelato company that would ultimately give him a sweet reward following his 1979 Milan-Sanremo victory. © Gis
Paris-Nice was equally littered with victors cum Monument champions and between 1963-1972, only one of the ten winners finished their careers with no win at a Monument- Rolf Wolfshohl. Between the race's 21st and 30th editions, the winners cum Monument champions included: Jacques Anquetil (won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1966), Jan Janssen (won Paris-Roubaix in 1967), Tom Simpson (won Ronde van Vlaanderen, Milan-Sanremo and Giro di Lombardia), Eddy Merckx (won all five Monuments) and Raymond Poulidor (won Milan-Sanremo in 1961).
1976 brought Tirreno-Adriatico into its second decade of existence, with Roger De Vlaeminck taking his fifth straight title. Over the following nine editions, five of them would be won by a Monument victor. The defining rivalry has been discussed previously with both Giuseppe Saronni and Francesco Moser vying for the title. Saronni had an incredibly illustrious career, with his 12-year career resulting in 193 victories and the nickname La fucilata di Goodwood- 'the gunshot of Goodwood', following his final sprint to win the 1982 World Championship Road Race at Goodwood, England. In 1982, Saronni took his second Tirreno-Adriatico title, before going on to win the Giro di Lombardia later that year. Arguably his defining moment in the Classics came the following year, when a blistering attack on the Poggio shot him to finally seal the Milan-Sanremo title after three consecutive second places. Following his World Championships victory, it was a beautiful year for Saronni, winning the trio of Giro di Lombardia (1982), Milan-Sanremo (1983) and the Giro d'Italia (1983) in his rainbow bands. His Italian foe Francesco Moser was a much more gifted one-day racer, but was equally hampered on the climbs and the Giro d'Italia was often tempered down (in terms of mountains) in order to give him a chance at competing with Saronni. Their rivalry was the natural successor to Coppi vs Bartali and entertained both the Italian and international crowd for almost a decade. Like Saronni, Moser won two editions of Tirreno-Adriatico in its second decade as a race, but Lo Sceriffo was the more accomplished Monument racer, finishing his career with two Giro di Lombardia titles, a singular Milan-Sanremo victory and three Paris-Roubaix cobbles. Just as Moser's and Saronni's wins spilled into the 1980s, Monument champions were enjoying fruitful times at Paris-Nice from the late 1970s into the early 1980s, albeit to a lesser extent; between 1973-1982, three of the ten editions of Paris-Nice were won by Monument champions. Raymond Poulidor kicked this off in the race's 31st edition in 1973, followed by Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle in 1980 and Sean Kelly in 1982. Between 1982 and 1988, Sean Kelly won seven straight Paris-Nice titles, to add to his collection of winning four out of the five Monuments: 2x Milan-Sanremo, 2x Paris-Roubaix, 2x Liège-Bastogne-Liège and 3x Giro di Lombardia.
Whilst King Kelly was weaving his magic across the continent, Tirreno-Adriatico had settled on a new routine; between 1984-2001 the race was raced over six to eight stages, with the route shifting further northwards towards Central Italy. In the fourth year of its new look, Rolf Sørensen took the first of his two titles, with the Danish rider taking victory once more in 1992. To this day, Sørensen is Denmark's greatest ever rider and the man from Helsinge won two Monuments in his fine career, Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1993 and Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1997. Joining Il Biondo in becoming a Tirreno-Adriatico victor cum Monument champion in the race's third decade were Tony Rominger (2x Giro di Lombardia), Maurizio Fondriest (1x Milan-Sanremo) and Giorgio Furlan (1x Milan-Sanremo). Sørensen and Rominger were both two-time winners of Tirreno-Adriatico, whilst the Swiss rider also won Paris-Nice in 1991 and 1994.
Diego Maradona made a surprise appearance at the 1990 Tirreno-Adriatico, where he was greeted by Maurizio Fondriest and Giuseppe Saronni. © Sirotti
Tony Rominger's win at the 1994 Paris-Nice came during the final ten-year period that the race was consistently won by Monument champions. Between 1993-2002, six of the ten winners of Paris-Nice would be Monument champions by the end of their career. Rominger kicked off this illustrious decade in 1994, but he was succeeded for three years running by Laurent Jalabert, with 'Jaja' winning both Milan-Sanremo and Giro di Lombardia over this three-year period. In 1998, Jalabert narrowly missed out on a fourth successive Paris-Nice title, as he finished second to Frank Vandenbroucke by just 40 seconds. Vandenbroucke was another in a list of Paris-Nice winners cum Monument champions, having taken the 1999 Liège-Bastogne-Liège the following year. The tale of Vandenbroucke is a rather sad one. After having won Paris-Nice at just the tender age of 23, the rider with bleached blond hair and goatee was offered a £500,000 a year deal to join the French Cofidis team the following year, a move that initially paid off with the youngster winning La Doyenne in a mightily impressive performance. Having comfortably followed the attack of Michele Bartoli on the climb of La Redoute, Vandenbroucke bridged across to Michael Boogerd on the Saint Nicolas, before leaving the Dutchman and soloing to victory in Ans. Becoming the first Belgian winner of the race since Dirk De Wolf in 1992, Vandenbroucke was tipped for great things, but would ultimately end up dead at just 34. After a controversial career that resulted in the Belgian being all-too-often persuaded by the party life and subsequently EPO, Vandenbroucke never enjoyed major success following La Doyenne and died of a pulmonary embolism whilst on holiday in Senegal. It was a sad demise for the rider tipped for greatness and for a rider who grew up with a beautiful love for the sport of cycling. Having suffered a broken leg from a car at the age of five, his mother often told the tale of how he did not cry until the doctor was forced to cut his cycling shorts with a pair of scissors- rest in peace Frank.
Frank Vandenbroucke braving the cold conditions en route to winning the 1998 Paris-Nice. © Graham Watson
After Vandenbroucke's victory at the 1998 Paris-Nice, no winner would also be a Monument champion until Alexandre Vinokourov in 2002. Following Vinokourov's two victories in succession, the final Paris-Nice winner also to be a Monument champion was Davide Rebellin in 2008; since Rebellin's victory at that controversial event, no Paris-Nice winner since has also tasted success at a Monument. highlighting the plateauing of The Race to the Sun throughout the 2000s. In contrast, Tirreno-Adriatico enjoyed a fruitful transition to the 21st century and despite the Monument champions not tasting quite as much success today, due to the nature of the route, they still have their moments to shine and three of the last five champions have also been Monument winners. Just as 1984-2001 had a settled routine, Tirreno-Adriatico underwent an evolution in 2002 and has remained in a similar look to this day. Since 2002, the race is held over seven stages, beginning on the Tyrrhenian coast and finishing in the Adriatic seaside city of San Benedetto del Tronto. Just prior to the altered route, Michele Bartoli won the 1999 and 34th edition of Tirreno-Adriatico. The Italian rider would excel in the cobbled and Ardennes Classics, earning himself the nickname Il Leoncino delle Fiandre- the Little Lion of Flanders. By the end of his career, Bartoli had won two editions of Giro di Lombardia, two editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the 1996 Ronde van Vlaanderen. Following Davide Rebellin's success at Tirreno-Adriatico in 2001 and the adoption of the new routine in 2002, Filippo Pozzato, Paolo Bettini and Óscar Freire would join the pair of Bartoli and Rebellin as Tirreno-Adriatico winners cum Monument champions between 1996-2005, making it five in just ten editions. Although only one winner of Paris-Nice since 2006 has also been a Monument champion in their career, six winners of Tirreno-Adriatico have also been Monument champions, despite the race tailoring itself to Grand Tour contenders in recent years. Over the past 15 years, the race has often included mountain stages in the Apennines, resulting in the illustrious names of past winners that we discussed earlier.
Fabian Cancellara (2008), Greg Van Avermaet (2016) and Michał Kwiatkowski (2018) have all won Tirreno-Adriatico since 2006, showing that despite its altered nature, opportunities still remain for Classics riders in good form. Alongside its patchy couple of decades in terms of quality, another possible reason for the lack of Paris-Nice winners cum Monument champions may be the changing nature of racers since the 1990s. Prior to the 1990s, most of the world's most talented riders would engage in a variety of disciplines, be it Grand Tours, stage races or Classics. Consequently, Paris-Nice's rich history is littered with riders such as Eddy Merckx, Tony Rominger, Sean Kelly and Jacques Anquetil, who won both Grand Tours and Monuments. Therefore, despite many of the race's winners targeting Paris-Nice as an early test before the Grand Tours, it equally means that many of its winners throughout the 1900s were also Monument champions. Since the 1990s, times have changed and so have riders, with many Grand Tour contenders beginning to specialise in the three-week discipline, rather than splitting their energy with trying to win Monuments. Arguably this process first began with Miguel Indurain, who won multiple Paris-Nice editions and Tours de France, yet never targeted a Monument success. The first two decades of the 21st century shine a bright light on this occurrence also, with Alberto Contador and Bradley Wiggins both being Paris-Nice winners cum Grand Tour champions. Neither of them were Monument champions in their career, despite irregular efforts to taste success. Both Contador and Wiggins were far better suited to the three-week Grand Tours, with Contador excelling in the mountains and Wiggins excelling in time trials. Both of these abilities resulted in the riders winning Grand Tours, but neither could muster a victory in a Classic, let alone a Monument. Arguably, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal fit the same bill as Wiggins and Contador. Both have been Paris-Nice winners cum Grand Tour champions, but neither of them have yet to win a Monument. Admittedly, both Thomas and Bernal look contenders to win a Monument before their careers are over, but this highlights the once more changing nature of riders. Beginning with Bradley Wiggins, the past decade has brought about the ultimate protagonist in Grand Tour specialisation, with Chris Froome winning seven Grand Tours whilst never even considering a sniff at the one-day races. Luckily for the fans, this trend has been reversed over the past few years, with Grand Tour winners also taking the start line of major one-day races. Vincenzo Nibali won Tirreno-Adriatico in 2013 and 2014, prior to winning Giro di Lombardia twice (2015, 2017) and Milan-Sanremo in 2018. Moreover, Primož Roglič, winner of La Vuelta a España on two occasions, also tasted success at Tirreno-Adriatico in 2019, prior to winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year. Given Egan Bernal's and Tadej Pogačar's recent impressive performances at Strade Bianche, it looks likely that this trend will continue and more Grand Tour champions will also achieve success in the Monuments, that is if they can beat the formidable trio of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe.
Bradley Wiggins took a crack at the Monuments later in his career, namely Paris-Roubaix, but was unable to take victory at the race he loved. © Sirotti
By looking at the prestige of Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice through the lens of winners cum Monument champions, the balance of power has clearly shifted from Tirreno-Adriatico to Paris-Nice, with Paris-Nice having no such winner since 2008. Throughout the 1900s and since its inception in 1933, Paris-Nice consistently produced winners who had also achieved success at the Monuments, riders such as Roger Decock, Alfons Schepers, Raymond Poulidor and Gaston Rebry. However, since the turn of the century the quality of its champions has diminished, resulting in only two riders to have won both a Monument and Paris-Nice since 2000. At the same time, having enjoyed an almost equally fruitful 1900s in terms of winners cum Monument champions, Tirreno-Adriatico has managed to retain these kinds of winners since the turn of the century, whilst also establishing itself as the go-to race for riders preparing for the upcoming Grand Tours. In the race's last 15 editions, six of them have been won by Monument champions, including Vincenzo Nibali and Greg Van Avermaet, indicating the eclectic mix of winners on offer. As a consequence, one has to look at this independent variable and suggest that the balance of power has notably shifted since the turn of the century, placing Tirreno-Adriatico at a similar prestige level to that of Paris-Nice. Furthermore, should the trend continue to unfold, it is possible that before too long, we will start perceiving Tirreno-Adriatico as holding more prestige to modern riders than The Race to the Sun, Paris-Nice.
Independent Variable 2: Startlist Quality
Moving on to our next independent variable that will have an effect on our dependent variable- the prestige of the two races- we must acknowledge that the winners of the races are not the be all and end all. In fact, just because a rider wins a stage race despite not tasting success in other disciplines, it does not mean that their success was necessarily less notable. To take a case in point, one only needs to look at Richie Porte, who has won two editions of Paris-Nice, yet has not won a Monument or a Grand Tour. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest climbers of the past decade, drawing respect and acclaim from the vast majority of the peloton, and yet he is unfairly excluded if we simply focus on our first independent variable. A race is more than what its winner has achieved elsewhere and therefore we have decided to also look at the startlist quality of both races, which we feel will give an indication of how high the races have been valued in the eyes of the peloton. The more valued a race is, the more likely a team will be to send their strongest riders, theoretically resulting in a greater startlist quality. For the following independent variable, we will be using the startlist quality provided by Procyclingstats, who compute the quality score of a startlist as follows:
For each rider on the startlist, the position on the PCS ranking on the date of the start of the race is computed. For a top-10 position, 50 points are awarded, top-25 position 35 points and on according to this scheme (top10: 50, top25: 35, top50: 20, top100: 10, top200: 5, top500: 2, top1000: 1).
If you are interested in how they calculate the PCS ranking itself, please see the below explanation from the website:
Summation of PCS points over a 12-month + 2 weeks overlap period. Races are counted once. After the finish of a stage, the corresponding stage of the previous edition is excluded.
The startlist quality scores from Procyclingstats go back to 1993 and whilst not allowing us to delve deep into the history of both races, support our pattern of race prestige- since the turn of the century, the prestige of Tirreno-Adriatico has risen whilst that of Paris-Nice has plateaued, placing both races on more or less an even keel.
1993 is indeed an interesting starting point for our study, with both races existing in contrasting shapes. Paris-Nice enjoyed an all-star startlist that year, with a quality score of 1158 and an overall winner in the shape of Alex Zülle. The Swiss rider would enjoy his greatest career moments in Spain, taking nine stages and two overall victories at La Vuelta a España. It was certainly the most powerful startlist throughout the 1990s, with riders attending including: Sean Kelly, Laurent Jalabert, Andy Hampsten, Giorgio Furlan, Pedro Delgado, Mario Cippolini and Robert Millar. In comparison, that year's Tirreno-Adriatico was certainly a Classics man's affair, with Maurizio Fondriest coming out on top prior to his Milan-Sanremo victory, more on that in due course. Although Fondriest was a strong winner of The Race of the Two Seas, the startlist quality was just 565, more than half of that for Paris-Nice. Beyond Gianni Bugno, Claudio Chiappucci, Stephen Roche and Rolf Sørensen, the startlist was comparatively weak when juxtaposed with Paris-Nice.
In our previous section, we made mention of Tirreno-Adriatico enjoying a strong 1976-1985 period, before returning to relative normality until the turn of the century. It was at this point that the prestige, enjoyment and quality of race began to pick up, with both the winners being of a higher calibre and also the startlist enjoying a stronger field. Whilst Paris-Nice enjoyed a better average startlist quality than Tirreno-Adriatico through 1993-1999, 889 to 748, a noticeable shift occurred as the new century beckoned. The aforementioned strong startlist for Paris-Nice in 1993 was not bettered by the race until 2010, with only 2005's edition exceeding 1000 on the Procyclingstats score through the intervening period. On the other hand, from a relatively average startlist quality of 769 in 1998, Tirreno-Adriatico enjoyed four successive editions where this score did not fall below 1000.
Bobby Julich wins the 2005 Paris-Nice ahead of a young Alejandro Valverde. © Shutterstock
Since 2002, Tirreno-Adriatico has only held three editions that had startlist qualities of less than 1000 on the Procyclingstats scale. Meanwhile, in the same period, Paris-Nice has staged nine editions that do so. The pattern of Tirreno-Adriatico gaining an incredible amount of prestige since 2005 is supported by the data supplied by Procyclingstats. Between 1996-2005, Abraham Olano was the sole winner of Tirreno-Adriatico who had also won a Grand Tour in his career. At that moment, it remained primarily a race for the Classics men who were training for the upcoming bloc of races that included Milan-Sanremo, with five winners in that period also winning a Monument in their career. 2004's edition of Tirreno-Adriatico hosted a startlist quality of 908 and the winner that year was Paolo Bettini, a 5x Monument winner. Since 2004, only 2020's abnormal edition has hosted a startlist quality of less than 1000 and between 2006-2015, seven of its winners were Grand Tour champions. In the first decade of this century, the average startlist quality of Tirreno-Adriatico was 1101, as opposed to a pitiful 900 for Paris-Nice.
2014 was very clearly a wake up call for the ASO, with Paris-Nice having an incredibly unusual route that had neither a time trial or a summit finish. Consequently, with plenty of the GC riders opting for Tirreno-Adriatico instead, the startlist quality was 971 to Tirreno-Adriatico's 1269. It had been a couple of successive years where Tirreno-Adriatico was clearly the stronger race, with the previous year also witnessing a 414-point difference between the startlist quality of both races, in favour of the Italian stage race. Responding to the crisis of identify, ASO returned the following year with a rejuvenated Paris-Nice that included a final day time trial on Col d'Eze and a summit finish on stage 4. As a result, the startlist quality leaped to 1222 and it was the first time since 2010 that the startlist quality of Paris-Nice was superior to that of Tirreno-Adriatico. Following the resurgence in 2015, Paris-Nice has only dipped once under a startlist quality of 1000 and maintained a steady competition with Tirreno-Adriatico throughout the remainder of the decade. Although the decade average once more fell in favour of Tirreno-Adriatico- 1112 to 1057- the closed gap indicates that Paris-Nice is on the comeback trail. To exemplify the current equilibrium, this year's Tirreno-Adriatico had a startlist quality of 1059, whilst Paris-Nice came extraordinarily close with a quality score of 1056.
Independent Variable 3: Scheduling of the Races
As discussed previously, both races now favour winners who are challenging for Grand Tours, rather than being Classics men. However, whilst Paris-Nice's list of winners cum Monument champions has dive bombed since the turn of the century, Tirreno-Adriatico has maintained a healthy number of winners who are also Monument champions. In order to explain why Tirreno-Adriatico favours the Monuments men, there is a very clear explanation that we can look to, that being the scheduling of the races. More precisely, with both stage races occurring during the same week, perhaps it would be wise to take a gander at the scheduling of races that surround Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice.
Tirreno-Adriatico is historically favoured by the Classics men due to falling before Milan-Sanremo. As the first Monument of the season, Milan-Sanremo is usually held on the third Saturday of March. As the first major stage race in Italy of the season, Tirreno-Adriatico has been held in the middle of March since its first edition in 1966, with the only exception coming in the abnormal year of 2020, where it was postponed until September. Just as Sean Kelly gave Paris-Nice an undeniable identity throughout his reign, Roger De Vlaeminck gave Tirreno-Adriatico its first identity with his six consecutive wins, beginning in 1972. Throughout the 1970s, De Vlaeminck won Milan-Sanremo on three occasions following participating in Tirreno-Adriatico, alongside winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1977. Prior to winning the Ronde, De Vlaeminck had won the 1977 Tirreno-Adriatico, finished 2nd at Milan-Sanremo and in the bunch at E3-Prijs Harelbeke- where the race favourites had been surprised by the lone winner of Dietrich Thurau. It was during the 1970s that Tirreno-Adriatico established itself as the main warmup race for Milan-Sanremo and this legacy continues through to the modern day.
In the past 30 editions of Milan-Sanremo, 21 of its winners have ridden Tirreno-Adriatico prior to the event, naturally skipping Paris-Nice to do so. The remarkable stat shows that 70% of the race's past 30 winners have chosen to prepare their form whilst riding across the country of Italy, rather than donning the roads of France. This is a completely understandable course of action, given that Milan-Sanremo is also played out across 300km of Italian roads. Beginning with Erik Zabel's Milan-Sanremo victory in 2000 following a stage victory at Tirreno-Adriatico, the subsequent ten editions of Milan-Sanremo were all won by riders who had ridden Tirreno-Adriatico prior to taking the start line. Throughout this symbiotic period between the two races, the winners included a star-powered list of names: Mario Cipollini, Paolo Bettini, Óscar Freire, Alessandro Petacchi, Fabian Cancellara and Mark Cavendish amongst them. We must make mention of three special riders in particular. In the 30-year time span that we have observed, three riders won Milan-Sanremo following also winning the overall at Tirreno-Adriatico- Maurizio Fondriest in 1993, Giorgio Furlan in 1994 and Fabian Cancellara in 2008.
Mark Cavendish won the 2009 Milan-Sanremo after having competed at Tirreno-Adriatico, a regular occurrence for The Race of the Two Seas. © Yuzuru Sunada
With his fabulous victories in 2008, Fabian Cancellara leads us nicely into Strade Bianche, which has also played its own role in the success of Tirreno-Adriatico in recent years. Prior to winning both Milan-Sanremo and Tirreno-Adriatico in 2008, 'Spartacus' had also won Strade Bianche just four days prior to The Race of the Two Seas. At the time, Strade Bianche was in its second year and went by the name Monte Paschi Eroica. The second edition of Strade Bianche allowed the race to find its niche in the road racing calendar, with Cancellara displaying the benefits of racing the entire bloc in Italy, from Strade Bianche, to Tirreno-Adriatico and finally to Milan-Sanremo. Beginning life as Monte Paschi Eroica, Strade Bianche has its roots in cycling history, despite being a young race in comparison to most others on the calendar. Monte Paschi Eroica was preceded by L'Eroica Strade Bianche, which was created in 1997 to celebrate the 'heroic era' of cycling, where riders would truly battle the elements in order to achieve glory. In a throwback to days of yore, the granfondo was ridden on the white gravel roads that surrounded Siena, with riders only being allowed to ride vintage bikes. It was a special event and that heart has followed the granfondo into its professional spin-off race, which held its first edition in 2007. Initially the event was held in October, but was moved in 2008 to find its home closer to the spring Classics. Presiding in its now familiar sport in early March, the race was won by Fabian Cancellara in a two-up sprint with Alesseandro Ballan, followed by victories for the Swiss rider in Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo. Undergoing a couple of name changes in its early days, the race is now settled as Strade Bianche, taking place the weekend before Tirreno-Adriatico and finishing in Piazza del Campo in Siena. Although Cancellara is alone in winning all three races in the same season, the trio of races have formed the basis of many riders' spring Classics preparation and since its move to March in 2008, all but one of the winners of Strade Bianche have ridden Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo in the subsequent weeks (not counting the extraordinary 2020 edition). It is clear to see that the three races are now ridden in unison and thus the Classics men are often drawn to Tirreno-Adriatico over Paris-Nice, due to its proximity to both Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo, which are both also held in Italy. It is a strategy that has been shown to work, by Cancellara in particular, but also by Michał Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe, who both won Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo within weeks of each other, in 2017 and 2019 respectively.
Michał Kwiatkowski (centre) and Julian Alaphilippe (right) have both won Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo in the same season. © Yuzuru Sunada
Additionally to attracting the Classics men to Tirreno-Adriatico, the race has also been successful in attracting those seeking to win the Giro d'Italia. Positioned just a couple of months before the Giro d'Italia, Tirreno-Adriatico serves as the perfect test of the legs for those targeting success at the year's first Grand Tour. Whilst Paris-Nice is equally positioned in the calendar, it is obvious as to why riders would choose Tirreno-Adriatico over Paris-Nice as preparation, with the opportunity to race on Italian roads proving convincing. As a result, for men who have their eye on winning La Corsa Rosa, the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race is an important point on their roadmap. When combined with the change in the route profile of Tirreno-Adriatico to suit the climbers aiming for Grand Tour success, it has resulted in incredibly strong startlists and winners of the race over the past couple of decades. To exemplify the importance of Tirreno-Adriatico for those wanting to win the Giro d'Italia, we need only to look towards the recent history, which shows that the past eight winners of the Giro d'Italia have all ridden Tirreno-Adriatico prior, thus skipping Paris-Nice. In fact, the last winner of the Giro d'Italia to have ridden Paris-Nice prior was Paolo Savoldelli in 2005.
The combination of the calendar scheduling for three massive Italian races- Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo and the Giro d'Italia- has led Tirreno-Adriatico to become an incredibly important part of the masterplan for both Classics men and Grand Tour contenders alike, raising its prestige to levels never previously imagined for The Race of the Two Seas. Paris-Nice has lost out in both aspects and as we have touched upon, a lot of this can be traced back to the disastrous change in route profile for Paris-Nice in 2014, which opened the hornets' nest in a way, with no way of stopping what has subsequently come. Tirreno-Adriatico is now an important part of the race calendar for many riders, and Paris-Nice will have to respond in order to carve out its niche once again.
Weaknesses of our Approach
Of course, this comparative analysis is subjective in many ways, and has a few weaknesses which one has to consider whilst coming to a judgement over the prestige of both races. Below we shall outline a few of these weaknesses:
By focusing so much of our analysis on the winners of these stage races, we neglect those riders who achieved podiums at one time or another. Whilst a winner of Paris-Nice may not have achieved incredible success in their career, and thus we theoretically mark them down for such, it ignores the potential talent that we have overlooked who may have finished behind them on the podium. For example, Bobby Julich won Paris-Nice through its supposed weak years in 2005. The American rider has won neither a Grand Tour nor a Monument, and hence has been used as an exemplar for the weakness of Paris-Nice through the 2000s. However, finishing just ten seconds behind him that year was Alejandro Valverde, who has impressively won La Vuelta a España and four editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Were we to take more note of the riders to have made up the podiums of these races, perhaps we would have found an altered conclusion.
Similarly, by basing our first independent variable on the overall winners of these races, we naturally ignore those who won stages of the events, but not necessarily the overall title. To find how this may skew our analysis, one only needs to reflect on this year's Paris-Nice. Whilst the race was won by Max Schachmann, who is yet to get a big win in a Monument or a Grand Tour- which may not suit him as a rider- three of the stages were won by Primož Roglič, who has won two Vueltas in succession, as well as a Monument in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Not only do we mark down this year's Paris-Nice on the basis of Roglič's last day disaster, we also overlook the intricacies of each edition of these races, such as a behemoth like Roglič winning multiple stages within an event.
The startlist quality of an event, as given by Procyclingstats, is a somewhat limited figure and only extends over a 12-month period. For example, Chris Froome would not offer much help to an event's startlist quality, despite being a four-time Tour de France champion, due to having an injury-marred 12 months. Furthermore, the figures only went back to 1993 and hence we could not complete an analysis of the entire spectrum of both events.
We did little to acknowledge the changing fortunes of these events in relation to the changing nature of the road racing calendar. As opposed to many decades ago, there is a far greater array of international races on the WorldTour calendar, meaning that riders and teams are spread thin. The amount of races in the calendar has a clear determinant on the prestige of races, with teams unable to send almighty teams to Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice, without having to consider the other events that they are down to compete at a similar time. Gone are the days when a rider like Sean Kelly could target Paris-Nice year after year, we will perhaps never see such loyalty allowed to a rider and an event year on year, with riders acting at the behest of their bosses, who will have to consider an array of races that now dot the calendar. Moreover, with the increasing number of races on the calendar, the probability of over saturation also increases. No longer is Paris-Nice a behemoth of the stage racing season, with many more events now holding a great pull on riders and teams, diminishing the prestige that Paris-Nice held back in the days of Leulliot family control. With their financial clout, the UAE Tour is now a major marker on the stage racing calendar, for example. One would have to say that Tadej Pogačar's UAE Tour victory has made more of an impact this season than Max Schachmann's Paris-Nice success.
With all that being said, we are still really pleased with the analysis that we have managed to cobble together and no research is ever going to cover every aspect possible. For this reason, we believe that a proper conclusion can be drawn from our research, with all three independent variables having been shown to have a clear impact on the dependent variable- that being the prestige of Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice.
With the use of our three independent variables, I believe that a clear pattern of fluctuating fortunes has not only been found, but also explained. The majority of our analysis is based on the first independent variable, where we take a look at the winners of Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice, in order to assess how prestigious the races have been, as dictated by the winners. By looking at the race winners, we can see that Paris-Nice, as expected, enjoyed a wonderfully successful 20th century, despite a slow start following 1933. In the race's first three decades, only four of its editions were won by men who would also win a Grand Tour in their career. However, just as Sean Kelly also later defined The Race to the Sun, Jacques Anquetil was the rider who put Paris-Nice on the map, winning five editions to add to his collection of five Tour de France titles. Throughout the second half of the 1900s, Paris-Nice established itself as the first major stage race of the season, under the individualistic and spirited leadership of the Leulliot family. Meanwhile, Tirreno-Adriatico enjoyed a healthy period of winners cum Grand Tour champions between 1976-1985, but other than that it was a race reserved for the Classics men, such as six-time champion Roger De Vlaeminck. By the end of the century, Paris-Nice was clearly the more prestigious race, but its crown was slowly slipping. Forced into a sale from the Leulliot family, Paris-Nice eventually found itself in the hands of the ASO and quickly losing its individualistic streak, succumbing to its role as a little brother to the Tour de France, somewhat indistinguishable from the Critérium du Dauphiné. Throughout the 2000s, its startlist quality diminished and 2014 brought a true blot on its record, with the experimental route failing to inspire. Comparatively, Tirreno-Adriatico exploded from 2009 as the race in the masterplan for those aiming to win Grand Tours, in particular the Giro d'Italia. Alongside settling into a groove as sandwiched by Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo, Tirreno-Adriatico has jumped on the opportunity handed to it with Paris-Nice's unusual 2014 route. Since then, Pandora's box has been opened and Tirreno-Adriatico is arguably a more hotly contested race in recent years, leaving Paris-Nice with lots to ponder. The prestige of Paris-Nice has tailed off through the 2000s, before plateauing in the past deacde. On the other hand, Tirreno-Adriatico has risen to unbeknown heights since 2009 and now sits as a major marker on the WorldTour calendar. With both races taking place in the same week, they are destined to be compared and compete with one another for the sport's greatest riders. Whilst the balance of power has historically laid in the favour of Paris-Nice, this is no longer the case and if the current trend continues, one can imagine Tirreno-Adriatico enjoying a greater prestige than Paris-Nice within the next decade.
Simon Yates won an unusual 2020 edition of Tirreno-Adriatico, with the race being moved from its trademark slot in March. © Bettini Photo
It has been a pleasure penning these words and accidentally undertaking a thorough review of the history of these two great races, but it would not have been as fruitful without the aid of the following sources, whom all deserve an acknowledgment:
The Cycling Podcast's 'Friends of the Podcast' special, 'Paris-Nice and The King'
The excellent commentary from GCN through both events over the past month
Peter Cossins' book, 'The Monuments'