Preview: 44th Tirreno-Adriatico

Kick off for Italy's grand races

Tirreno-Adriatico will kick off the run to the Milano-Sanremo and the Giro d'Italia when it starts Wednesday from Italy's Tuscan seaside town of Cecina. The 44th edition of the prestigious stage race, March 11 to 17, offers demanding mountains and sprint finishes that will prepare the participants for some of cycling's grand events.

For the first time in Tirreno-Adriatico's history it will start in Tuscany. The Corsa dei Due Mari ('race of the two seas') departs on March 11 in Cecina and ends on Tuesday, March 17, with the traditional San Benedetto del Tronto circuit. It will consist of one time trial and two serious mountain stages.

The race, staring in the west along the Mar Tirreno, visits two other regions in its eastward journey to the Mar Adriatico. The first three stages all in Tuscany–Capannori, Marina di Carrara and Santa Croce sull'Arno–should suit the sprinters.

Foreign sprinters will have a hard time beating the Italians on their home roads. The fastest ones are in fact from the region of Tuscany: Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Francesco Ginanni (Diquigiovanni-Androni) and nearby Ligurian Alessandro Petacchi (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini). They will cross swords with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne winner Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Julian Dean (Garmin-Slipstream), Robbie McEwen (Katusha), Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank) and Baden Cooke (Vacansoleil).

The sprint outcomes will be important indicators for RCS Sport's Milano-Sanremo one-day race. The Classic comes only four days after the final sprint in San Benedetto del Tronto. Whoever dominates the sprints in Tirreno will be the number one sprint favourite for Sanremo.

Stage four starts in the Umbria region and ends in Le Marche region with two climbs up the terrible Montelupone. The riders will start the 171-kilometre stage in Foligno. The first climb, Passo Cornello, comes at just 30 kilometres in and sets the standard for the day to come. It is all up and down with the first Montelupone passage coming at 13.9 kilometres to the finish. Its sections of 21% gradient will sort out the classification battle.

Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne) dominated the Montelupone last year and left riders literally scrambling in his wake. The steep climb forced most of the riders apart from the front-runners to put their feet on the ground when the paced slowed down. Swiss Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) kept at the front and positioned himself to take the race leadership and eventual overall win in the time trial.

The final three stages of the 2009 edition are all in Le Marche: a 30-kilometre time trial similar to last year's, a demanding 235-kilometre mountain day that ends with the run up Camerino and the final day's San Benedetto del Tronto circuit.

The time trial is nearly identical to last year's, except that RCS Sport runs it in reverse. Riders will start in Loreto, clime the Colle dell'Infinito and end with the climb up to Macerata. Cancellara ruled the day last year, but this year he is not a top favourite due to an injury.

The mountain men will have a chance to gain any time lost in Monday's stage to Camerino. The 235-kilometre day takes in the Cingoli and Sasso Tetto passes before the 200-metre unclassified finishing climb. It will be a perfect day for a rider like 2000 Giro d'Italia winner Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo).

Garzelli may get the stage, but for the overall he will have to contend with strong opposition from Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), 2006 winner Thomas Dekker (Silence-Lotto), 2007 winner Andreas Klöden (Astana), 2003 winner Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and 2001 winner Davide Rebellin (Diquigiovanni-Androni).

RCS Sport announced on January 28 the 24 eight-man teams that will participate. ProTour teams AG2R La Mondiale, Astana, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Caisse d'Epargne, Cofidis, Columbia-Highroad, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Française des Jeux, Garmin-Slipstream, Katusha, Lampre-NGC, Liquigas, Milram, Quick Step, Rabobank, Silence-Lotto and Saxo Bank will join Professional Continental teams Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo, Barloworld, Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce, Cervélo TestTeam, Diquigiovanni-Androni, LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini and Vacansoleil.

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