The "Race of Two Seas": Tirreno-Adriatico Has Kicked off in Italy

James ThompsonCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2009

While Paris-Nice continues on in France, its sister-race, Tirreno-Adriatico, kicked off today in Italy.

Known as the "Race of Two Seas", Tirreno-Adriatico starts on the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea (Tirreno in Italian) on Italy's west coast, and finished a week later on the east cost, the Adriatic Sea (Italian: Adriatico).

Many riders are vying for top honours. Climbers like Ivan Basso (Liquigas) will meet up with rivals such as 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).

They will be looking to shine on the staggering 235-kilometer stage that takes in several tough climbs, including the 200-meter climb to the finish line that is so steep, many riders had to walk up it last year. 

Cassie d'Epargne's Joaquim Rodriguez won that stage last year and will be looking for a repeat victory.

Several sprint stages will also see likely battles between sprint-giants Mark Cavendish (Columbia) and Tom Boonen (QuickStep), as well as Alessandro Petacchi (LPR-Brakes) and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas).

As tough as the climbing stage might be, the time-trial may have a big hand in deciding the race, as last year's winner Fabian Cancellara (Saxobank) used it last year to build up an insurmountable lead. 

Of the climbers mentioned, Andreas Kloden is an exceptional time-triallist and may wish to use it to build up an advantage on his rivals.

Unlike Paris-Nice or the Tour of California, Tirreno-Adriatico kicked off today without any form of a prologue time-trial, but rather a traditional road stage starting from the city of Cecina. 

As Julien El Farès (Cofidis) and Vladimir Duma (Ceramica Flaminia) broke away and built up a lead of 11 minutes, the sprinters' teams of Columbia and QuickStep timed the catch too late.

El Farès and Duma still had almost 20 seconds on the peloton, which was chasing them down feverishly coming into the final straight.  El Farès outsprinted his breakaway companion to take the first stage of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico. 

Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) led home the peloton to take third, 12 seconds behind.

Unfortunately for last year's winner Fabian Cancellara (Saxobank), early season sickness leading to his withdrawal from last month's Tour of California and a subsequent shoulder injury led him to finish at the back of the pack, at seven minutes behind, and will no longer be in contention for the win.