Corsa dei Due Mari

The Tirreno-Adriatico stage race starts today in central Italy with Evans a favourite. He won the Italian stage race last year as part of a march towards the Tour de France.

The Corsa dei Due Mari, which races from the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic Sea, kicks off with a 16.9-kilometre team time trial. Teams Liquigas and Garmin are favourites for the opening team event in San Vincenzo, south of Livorno.

Liquigas-Cannondale sports director Stefano Zanatta explained, “Vincenzo [Nibali] is racing Tirreno-Adriatico to win.”

Nibali won the Vuelta a España in 2010 and last month tasted his first success since, the Green Mountain stage in the Tour of Oman. Tirreno and the Ardennes Classics, and other early races, fit nicely with Nibali’s schedule, which sees him tapering off in May and coming back in June to focus on the Tour de France.

“I’ve always lacked something in past editions, which pushes me to get it right this year,” Nibali said in a team press release about Tirreno-Adriatico.

“Physically, I’m good. I’ve put in my base work and I’m improving well. The win in Oman showed I was on the right track.”

After today’s stage, the riders face two sprint stages, three mountain stages and a final individual time trial.

“I’m going to give it my all to win,” Nibali added. “I’ll play my cards the best I can and take advantage of any occasion.”

Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) won the race in 2009 and finished on the podium in the last two editions. The Giro winner is a favourite with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).

Cadel Evans celebrating his victory of Tirreno Adriatico last year.

It’s interesting to review what Evans said after his win last year.

“It is all about the Tour this year. It’s always great to have a result before the Tour,” he explained after his overall win. “Also, I am a fan of the older cycling, where the riders raced from the beginning to the end of year. I don’t like how cycling lately where cyclists only show up to race the Tour and that’s it.”

“My first goal is to see how my fitness is,” Evans said on Monday. “To repeat last year’s result here would be an ultimate gauge of my fitness.”

Sanremo training and odds

The best sprinters in the world usually race Tirreno-Adriatico to prepare for Milano-Sanremo. The Italian one-day race is organised by the same company, RCS Sport, and runs just four days after Tirreno ends.

Matt Goss last year became one of only the few riders to come from Paris-Nice and win last year. His former HTC-Highroad team-mate, Mark Cavendish preferred to race in Italy. This year they are both in Italy along with the who’s who in sprinting: Mark Cavendish & Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Matthew Goss (GreenEDGE), André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Oscar Freire (Katusha), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).

Sanremo odds:
Mark Cavendish 4:1
Philippe Gilbert 5:1
Peter Sagan 8:1
Matthew Goss 12:1
Edvald Boasson Hagen 12:1
Thor Hushovd 14:1
André Greipel 14:1
Tom Boonen 14:1
Tyler Farrar 16:1
Fabian Cancellara 18:1
Oscar Freire 18:1
Heinrich Haussler 25:1
Mike Matthews 33:1

Wiggo in control

Paris-Nice faced its first uphill finish yesterday with Simon Gerrans nipped by Alejandro Valverde. Today, Brad Wiggins defends his lead in a mid-mountain stage to Rodez, in central France.

“It’s always really hard to defend a six-second lead, especially with the bonus seconds on offer,” Wiggins said overnight in a press statement. “I’ve always said this race is going to come down to the Col d’Èze.”

The time trialists started the race on Sunday in Dampierre-en-Yvelines, southwest of Paris. Gustav Larsson (Vacansoleil-DCM) won over Wiggins, who raced under the rain.

“I didn’t take any risks in the corners but I knew in a straight line I was flying,” Wiggins explained. “I never really pushed it as hard as I could have done in the corners.”

Wiggins’ Sky team-mate, Richie Porte finished in 16th at 17 seconds back. World Champion and defending champion, Tony Martin (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) finished 25 seconds back.

His team turned the tables on Monday, muscling its way into an escape group and giving Wiggo the lead. He and team-mate Geraint Thomas helped drive the group in the rain and wind with OmegaPharma’s Tom Boonen and Levi Leipheimer. Boonen took his 100th win and Leipheimer sits six seconds back from Wiggins.

Paris-Nice is a three-horse race, with Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) at 11 seconds, with five days remaining. Other contenders sit further back: Valverde at 20 seconds and Gerrans, who missed Monday’s move, at 2-48 minutes.

In a repeat of Willunga Hill, Valverde nipped Gerrans in the finish overnight in Le Lac de Vassivière.

“Obviously, we’re a little bit disappointed that I couldn’t quite finish it off,” Gerrans explained. “To be so close shows we’re right up in there and in the mix of things. Wins in Europe aren’t too far away.”

With its time trials, sprints and mountain stages, the Paris-Nice gives us a taste of what’s to come in the Tour de France. Gerrans will be gunning for stage wins and Wiggins for the overall, helped this year by extra time trial kilometres.

Paris Nice Stage 3 results.

Serpa wins Langkawi

José Serpa (Androni) led an all-American charge in the Tour of Langkawi. The Colombian won the overall on Sunday ahead of Venezuelan José Rujano (Androni) and Colombian Victor Niño Corredor (Azad University).

“This is where I got my first stage victory in 2006 and now I have won the overall general classification of Langkawi twice,” Serpa said. “We are all very happy to bring this victory back home.”

Graeme Brown’s stage win record was broken by Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini). The Italian won six stages this year to bring his career haul to 11, two more than Brown’s mark.

Langkawi final results

Cancellara fires warning shot in Siena

Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) fired the warning shot in Siena on Saturday by winning Strade Bianche. His rivals are now on high alert, the Swiss champion is in form for Milano-Sanremo and the northern classics next month.

“I wanted it,” he said after the race. “I wanted it for myself, for my team, because one year without a win is too long.”

Cancellera winning his first race of the season after a fruitless season of 2011.

Cancellara followed an attack by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and rode free with 12 kilometres to race – this after covering 57.2 kilometres on Tuscany’s white gravel roads, or Strade Bianche.

The roads paved the way for Cancellara to have a successful spring. He has not won a big classic since 2010 when he bagged the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. His first win in Strade Bianche in 2008 came in the middle of a red-hot period. Afterwards, he won Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo. Later that year, he won a Tour stage and the Olympic time trial.

“And this is a true race,” Cancellara said. “It’s young, but it has a long history [with the cyclo-sportive], passes villages and a beautiful countryside.”

Organiser RCS Sport created the race in 2007 to give Italy a hard man’s classic, one with the hills of Flanders and the harsh road surface of Roubaix.

“These gravel roads remind me of the stage to Montalcino I won at the Giro,” Evans told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “But this time, sun and dust.”

Michele Bartoli won the Tour of Flanders in 1996 with an incredible burst on the Muur Kapelmuur. He travelled from Pisa to see the race on Saturday.

“This race is to Italy what Flanders is to Belgium or Roubaix is to France,” Bartoli said. “It’s special.”

Cancellara stormed into Siena’s city centre with a minute’s lead. He said he needed it for the steep climb into Piazza del Campo. Maxim Iglinsky (Astana), Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing), in order, sprinted for second place.

Strade Bianche final results.

McEwen wins crit

Robbie McEwen, in his 17th and final season, won the OCBC Cycling Singapore Criterium on Saturday.

“It feels good to take the win,” McEwen said in a team press release. “It was a great team ride with the boys.”

McEwen’s GreenEDGE teammates Fumiyuki Beppu and Luke Durbridge helped McEwen make the winning break. He now heads back to Australia to prepare to travel to Belgium and to race the classics.

Tour lengthens time trials

The Tour de France will race over 100 kilometres in time trials this July, the most in five years. On Friday, the organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announced the change, one that could help Evans win a second title.

“This small change, which will take individual time-trials over 100 kilometres,” Tour sport director Jean-François Pescheux told AFP news agency. “It is down to technical modifications on the ground after a detailed study.”

The time trials in this year’s race will be five kilometres longer than previously announced. The prologue in Liège stays the same, at 6.1km, but those on stage 9 and stage 19 will grow to 41.5km and 53.5km, respectively.

Editions and time trial distances:
2012: 101.1km
2011: 42.5km
2010: 60.9km
2009: 56km
2008: 82.5km
2007: 117.4km
2006: 116.1km
2005: 74.5km
2004: 77km
2003: 102.5km
2002: 109km

Paris-Roubaix organiser faces more problems

ASO is trying to avoid lengthening Paris-Roubaix on April 8. It is organising the cleaning of the Arenberg Forest, but is being forced to avoid a key stretch of road at another point in the race.

“We will wait for the authorities’ final decision. It’s not a nice situation to be in two months before the race,” Pescheux told AFP. “We have studied the alternatives, but it will mean that the route is seven kilometres longer, and we cannot have that.”

The stretch of D40 road near Denain, between the Monchaux-sur-Écaillon and Haveluy à Wallers cobbled sectors, passes a fuel storage depot. Last year, the local government banned gatherings near it.

Super Mario dreams of racing return

Mario Cipollini wants to return from retirement to race. “My legs are sharp,” he said. “At 45 I don’t feel old.”

The Italian sprinter won 42 stages at the Giro, 12 at the Tour, the Milano-Sanremo and became World Champion in 2002. He retired in 2005 and made a brief comeback in 2008 with Rock Racing.

Yesterday, he told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper he wants to help Andrea Guardini win at the Giro d’Italia this year. Cipollini, who turns 45 on March 22, supplies Guardini’s Farnese Vini team with his MCipollini bikes.

Team Farnese Vini is against it, calling it a publicity stunt, and the UCI won’t allow it because Cipollini would first have to re-enter the anti-doping testing pool for six months.

None of it smashed Super Mario’s hopes. “I’d be a great bet at the Giro, us pulling the sprint train to beat Cavendish. Think of how much we could win.”



Miss Ciclismo 2012

Italy is perhaps the only country that can get away with parading women for the sake of cycling. Every year, cycling agents and managers organise Miss Ciclismo. Last year, Nancy Bernacchia of Ancona won. See the video:



To vote for 2012′s Miss Ciclismo finalists, visit before March 10.