Italian pocket rocket Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic) almost made it look easy as he took the first stage win of the 41st edition of Tirreno-Adriatico, on home soil, ahead of Germany’s Erik Zabel (Milram).
Bettini’s impressive uphill sprint and perfect tactical positioning put him across the line first, giving Zabel his seventh second place this season.
The Tirreno-Adriatico, regarded as a bit of a warm up to the St Joseph’s Day Milano-San Remo course, runs from Italy’s west coast to east coast, hence acquiring the title ‘the race between two seas.’
1. Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic 4.08.55 (40.254 km/h)
2. Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram
3. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole
4. Mikhaylo Khalilov (Ukr) Team L.P.R.
5. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
6. Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas
7. Alessandr Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
8. Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Ceramica Panaria-Navigare
9. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir
10. Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank
169. Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas @2':17"
Magnus on the mend
The start line in Tivoli saw 200 riders preparing for the stage in glorious sunshine. Away from the main action British based Swede Magnus Backstedt (Lquigas) is using the early stages of the season to regain form following an innocuous crash during the Tour of Majorca.
Backstedt said "It was one of those crashes that as a pro bike rider we go through all the time, but I must have come down harder than I thought."
"The initial diagnosis was that I had just tweaked something and I was cleared to ride two days later, after only a few kilometres I was just in agony.
"I have managed a few rides up to four hours, but the tendon has just been so sore the next day. I haven't been able to string enough days together to be ready for Het Volk and Kuurne Brussells Kuurne. I can't jeopardise the rest of the classics by going into these races under prepared. I am having physiotherapy-I'm feeling better and better everyday.
"I will start training again with Tirreno Adriatico in mind. I will just aim to ride through that and regain the form that I had going into the season."
The stocky Swede has come into 2006 eight kilogrammes lighter than at the same time in previous seasons, but through carefully controlled training has maintained his formidable power.
"I feel that with the extra weight gone it will open up a whole new range of races that I could be competitive in, but Paris - Roubaix will always be my focus!"