Updated: Wednesday, 12 March 2014 14:10 | By Agence France-Presse

Froome absence makes for open Tirreno-Adriatico cycling race

This year's edition of the Tirreno-Adriatico which gets underway on Wednesday promises to be an open and exciting race, not least due to the absence of the dominant Chris Froome.

Froome absence makes for open Tirreno-Adriatico cycling race

In this file photo, the pack rides through a village during the 41th edition of the Tirreno/Adriatico cycling race, on March 13, 2006 - by Patrick Hertzog

The Tour de France champion pulled out at the last moment at the end of last week due to a back injury that has kept him sidelined since winning the Tour of Oman in late February.

It meant a quick reshuffle from his Sky team, bringing Australian Richie Porte and 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins across from the Paris-Nice team. 

Consequently, the Italian 'Race of the two Seas' is likely to overshadow the French 'Race to the sun' this year.

It boasts a formidable line-up with former Tour winners Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador lining up alongside Wiggins, who is expected to play super-domestique to Porte, who will lead Sky at the Giro d'Italia in May.

Colombia's Tour runner-up Nairo Quintana, Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez, third on the 2013 Tour, as well as American Tour of Spain champion Chris Horner, plus former Giro winners Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego and Michele Scarponi, will ensure the racing from one side of Italy to the other is fierce.

It won't just be the overall victory that will be keenly contested as most of the best sprinters in the world, from Briton Mark Cavendish to Germans Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, are in the peloton.

And then there are time-trial specialists Fabian Cancellara and current world champion Tony Martin, as well as Wiggins, alongside punchers Peter Sagan and Philippe Gilbert.

All that's missing, it seems, to make it a field as tough as you would expect to find in the Tour itself are Froome, world champion Rui Costa and current Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali, the latter two having opted for Paris-Nice this year. 

Froome would have started as favourite but instead many will be keenly watching 29-year-old Porte to see whether he can step up to the level of team leader.

He finished an impressive second in the Criterium du Dauphine last year and won Paris-Nice.

And the field here is probably even tougher than that he will face at May's Giro, where Quintana could provide the sternest challenge to his title hopes.

"I have been a professional now for years and I have never done Tirreno," Porte told Cyclingnews on Sunday, before explaining why his team swapped him so abruptly from the French race to the Italian one.

"I have always done Paris-Nice and other than last year it has always been the race I've always been the most nervous about all season.

"I looked at the Paris-Nice route this year and it was not one that suited me. If the Paris-Nice course was the same as last year, I would still be racing Paris-Nice, but it's not. It's a different race with the same name."

The main differences between the two is that the Tirreno-Adriatico has two summit finishes, a 16.9km team time-trial which opens hostilities and a 9.2km individual time-trial to top off the seven-day race.

Paris-Nice, on the other hand, has no time-trials nor tough mountain stages, meaning Porte's chances of overall victory looked better in Italy.

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