Mark Cavendish will take on Tom Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi in the sprints at Tirreno-Adriatico in the next seven days in his last road race before teaming up with Bradley Wiggins to ride the Madison at the world track championships in Manchester.
Cavendish has yet to win a sprint this year but is confident he can take on some of the biggest and fastest sprinters in the peloton.
There are at least three stages that are expected to end in bunch sprints at Tirreno-Adriatico, starting with Wednesday?s opening stage around Civitavecchia north of Rome, which includes a chicane just 150 metres from the finish.
Cavendish will have the support of a strong Team High Road squad that includes Roger Hammond, George Hincapie, Linus Gerdemann and his trusted lead out man and fellow sprinter Gerald Ciolek.
?I?m feeling pretty good after riding the Tour of West Flanders at the weekend and really want to get a win after going close several times in the Tour of California,? he told Cycling Weekly after arriving in Civitavecchia.
?I was up there in two stages in Flanders and could have been close in the overall classification if I hadn?t crashed on the Saturday. I?ve had a bit of bad luck so far this season and there have been a few sprints I should have won, so I really want to get one at Tirreno.?
Cavendish makes it clear he is not fazed by the presence of the best sprinters in the world the Tirreno-Adriatico peloton and now rightly considers himself as fast as Boonen, Petacchi, Robbie McEwen and Oscar Freire.
Other sprinters on the final start list for the Italian race include and Baden Cooke (Barloworld), Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas), Luciano Pagliarini (Saunier Duval), Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream) Stuart O?Grady (CSC) and Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff).
?We should see some good sprinting. It?s like a grand Tour start list and only Thor Hushovd and Gert Steegmans are missing,? Cavendish said.
?To be honest I?m glad Steegmans isn?t here because after watching the last two stages at Paris-Nice, it?s pretty clear that he?s flying.?
Tirreno-Adriatico is Cavendish?s final race before the Manchester track world championships but he is planning to finish the seven-day race before switching to the track just a few days before the Madison.
Cavendish revealed to Cycling Weekly that he may take Chris Newton?s place in the points race following the Rapha rider?s crash last week in training but is especially focused on the Madison where he will ride
with Bradley Wiggins.
MOUNTAIN TOP FINISH AND TIME TRIAL DECISIVE
Tirreno-Adriatico is overshadowed by Paris-Nice but yet again this year, almost of the favourites for Milan-San Remo on March have opted for the Italian race.
The stage profiles are often easier, the weather warmer and the final flat stage on Tuesday means the riders have the right amount of time to recover and prepare for Milan-San Remo.
This year the route includes a mountain top finish at the end of Friday?s third stage from Gubbio to Montelupone and Sunday?s 26km individual time trial from Macerata to Recanati is also expected to
play a vital role in deciding the final overall winner of the race.
Last year?s winner Andreas Kloden is not in the race after organisers RCS refused to invite his Astana team, leaving the battle for the new blue race leader?s jersey wide open.
Cycling Weekly?s tips include Andy Schleck (CSC), Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d?Epargne) and David Zabriskie (Slipstream).
DI LUCA GIVEN GREEN LIGHT TO RIDE
The 2007 Giro d?Italia winner Danilo Di Luca (LPR) could also be a threat after being given permission to ride by the Italian anti?doping investigators and race organisers RCS.
Di Luca has been accused of illegally using a drip during the 2007 Giro and faces a disciplinary hearing on April 2 but has been given permission to ride in the race which finishes near his home on the Adriatic coast.
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Wednesday, March 12 Civitavecchia ? Civitavecchi, 160km
Thursday, March 13 Civitavecchia ? Gubbio, 203km
Friday, March 14 Gubbio ? Montelupone, 195km
Saturday, March 15 Porto Recanati ? Civitanova Marche, 166km
Sunday, March 16 Macerata ? Recanati, 26km time trial
Monday, March 17 Civitanova Marche ? Castelfidardo, 196km
Tuesday, March 18 San Benedetto del Tronto ? San Benedetto del Tronto, 178km