Mark Cavendish (Columbia) has proved beyond doubt that he is currently the fastest sprinter in the world but that has made him the rider to beat at Tirreno-Adriatico that begins on Wednesday (March 11-17).
The Italian Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper has described the week long stage race as a sprinter?s world championships and the first three stages and then the final stage next Tuesday are expected to see a high-speed showdown between almost all of the fastest finishers in cycling.
As ever the ?Race of the Two Seas? will also be vital final preparation for Milan-San Remo, with the outcome of the sprints a clear indication of who could win the ?Primavera? classic on Saturday, March 21.
Gazzetta listed all the sprinters on the Tirreno-Adriatico start sheet and rightly put Cavendish at the top after his impressive wins in the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of California.
The young Brit?s name was followed by Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Alessandro Petacchi (LPR), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Robbie McEwen and Danilo Napolitano (Katusha), Thor Hushovd (Cervelo), Gerald Ciolek (Milram), Baden Cooke (Vacansoleil), Robbie Hunter (Barloworld) and Mattia Gavazzi (Diquigiovanni).
?All the best sprinters are at Tirreno. I?m ready and motivated but the overall classification is also important for Team Columbia,? Cavendish told Gazzetta.
Cavendish impressed with a strong ride in Saturday?s Strade Bianche Eroica race and then headed to San Remo to study the finale of the first big classic of the season. Riding with Team Columbia sprint consultant Erik Zabel, Cavendish studied the extra climb called ?Le Manie? inserted for the first time last year and then the Cipressa and Poggio climbs near the finish.
?It?s a classic that deserves respect. I hope to win it one day but not this year but I?m still going to give it everything,? Cavendish told Gazzetta, lowering his chances of success after realising just how tough the Manie climb is.
THREE EARLY SPRINT STAGES
Unfortunately the early stages at Tirreno-Adriatico also include some late climbs that could affect the outcome of the sprints.
Wednesday?s opener from Cecina to Capannori is only 147km long but has a four-kilometre climb, 14km from the finish, that will hurt everybody?s legs.
Thursday?s 177km second stage is from Volterra and finishes in Marina di Carrara, close to Alessandro Petacchi?s home. It goes over the Monte Serra climb mid-way through the stage and also includes two short climbs, 15km from the finish.
Friday?s 166km third stage is a twisting circuit near the Arno river from Fucecchio to Santa Croce sull?Arno. This stage is perhaps the real sprinters stage and will surely see several trains in action trying to lead out the high-speed sprint.
The race transfers to the Adriatic coast for the hillier stages starting with Saturday stage to Montelupone which ends with a final kilometre at 17.6%.
Sunday?s 30km time trial and then the hilly 235km sixth stage to Camerino will decide the overall race winner before the final flat stage around San Benedetto del Tronto on Tuesday.
WHO WILL WIN?
Last year?s winner Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) has admitted to Cycling Weekly that he will use the race for training after two weeks off the bike with a shoulder injury. Team mate Andy Schleck will lead Saxo Bank while other contenders include Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone), 2007 winner Andreas Kloden (Astana), Davide Rebellin (Diquigiovanni), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Thomas Dekker (Silence) and Linus Gerdemann (Milram).
Britain?s Steve Cummings is also an outsider for overall victory. He won a stage at the recent Giro del Capo, has worked hard on his climbing and will have a protected role at Barloworld.
Other British riders at Tirreno-Adriatico include Geraint Thomas, Charly Wegelius (Silence) and Roger Hammond and Daniel Lloyd of Cervelo, who are both on form.
Wednesday, March 11 - Stage 1 - Cecina - Capannori, 147km
Thursday, March 12 - Stage 2 - Volterra - Marina di Carrara, 177km
Friday, March 13 - Stage 3 - Fucecchio - Santa Croce sull'Arno, 166km
Saturday, March 14 - Stage 4 - Foligno - Montelupone, 171km
Sunday, March 15 - Stage 5 - Loreto - Macerata, 30km ITT
Monday, March 16 - Stage 6 - Civitanova Marche - Camerino, 235km
Tuesday, March 17 - Stage 7 - San Benedetto del Tronto - San Benedetto del Tronto, 169km
Click on the map to open full size in a new window
TIRRENO-ADRIATICO ON EUROSPORT
Transmission times for coverage of Tirreno-Adriatico on British Eurosport. Times subject to change.
Wednesday, March 11 - Stage 1 - 3.30-4.30pm Highlights
Thursday, March 12 - Stage 2 - 4.15-5pm Highlights
Friday, March 13 - Stage 3 - 10.45-11.30pm Highlights
Saturday, March 14 - Stage 4 - 5.30-6.30pm Highlights
Sunday, March 15 - Stage 5- 3.30-4pm Highlights
Monday, March 16 - Stage 6 - 2.15-3.15pm LIVE
Tuesday, March 17 - Stage 7 - 2.15-3.15pm LIVE
Mark Cavendish: Rider Profile
2009 Tirreno-Adriatico route unveiled
2008: Cancellara wins Tirreno-Adriatico
Lovkvist wins Strade Bianche Eroica
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