Julien El Farès of Cofidis won the first stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico Wednesday in Capannori, Italy. The Frenchman out-sprinted his breakaway companion Ukrainian Vladimir Duma (Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce) at the end of the 147-kilometre day, finishing just seconds ahead of the main group led by Daniele Bennati (Liquigas).
"It was an incredible day and I am very happy for this win. You have to attack if you want to win," said El Farès.
El Farès, whose grandfather originates from Algeria, scored the only other win of his professional career while riding as a trainee for Cofidis in 2006, when he won stage one of the Tour des Pyrénées over Yann Huguet and wore the leader's jersey for one day.
El Farès duplicated that feat on a much larger stage in Tirreno-Adriatico, and will wear the overall leader's blue jersey in tomorrow's 177-kilometre stage from Volterra to Marina di Carrara.
Team Liquigas looked to have the race in control for its sprinter Bennati on the climb of Valgiano. El Farès held 1:57 on the bunch at the top with Duma slightly off the pace, and with 16 kilometres to race it looked as though the sprinters would have their day. But the pair up front came back together and worked to hold 1:10 with five kilometres to go.
"I went to the front in the finale, and the other sprinters' teams tired to help. Today was my chance and it was a shame to throw it away," said Bennati to Rai. "I am upset to that I could not win given the great guys – Basso, Nibali and Pellizotti – who were all pulling for me."
El Farès and Duma rule the day
The race started in Toscana for the first time in its 44-year history, in Cecina, near the home of two-time World Champion Paolo Bettini. The teams faced sunny conditions with a slight wind. Amongst the 25 teams was Fuji-Servetto, which the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) gave the team permission to race only yesterday despite the race organiser's wishes.
El Farès controlled the day with Duma. The duo went free early in the race, near kilometre 32. They built a maximum advantage of 11 minutes on the run north towards Pisa. By 60 kilometres from the finish, in the province of Lucca, their gap was down to nine minutes over the Columbia-Highroad-led peloton.
Belgium's Quick Step took over with less than 40 kilometres remaining for sprinter Tom Boonen. The 2005 World Champion was on the hunt for his first win since Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. By the start of the Capannori finishing circuit with 26 kilometres to go, the peloton (with Cervélo TestTeam and Liquigas leading) had the duo at 3:56.
Duma lost ground on the four-kilometre long climb of Valgiano, starting at 20 kilometres to go. El Farès pushed on with two minutes in hand over the main group. The two crossed the top ahead the group led by Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali
Cavendish suffered from a mechanical problem at the base of the climb. He lost ground and had to mount a chase to regain contact with the main group.
El Farès and Duma re-joined forces after the descent on the run towards Capannori. They held 1:10 with five kilometres to go and looked secure of a stage win despite a feverish chase from behind.
"The group waited too long to catch us," said El Farès. "In the sprint I played with the nerves of Duma, he was worried about me."
Duma led his companion, 14 years younger, under the red triangle of one kilometre to go. He continued to do so through a series of curves. El Farès started the sprint at 200 metres. Duma moved to his rival's wheel and then tried to come around on the left side, but he did not have the legs.
Bennati led Alessandro Petacchi (LPR Brakes-Farnese Vini) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) over the finish line. He missed out on a win near his hometown of Arezzo. Tomorrow the race travels close Petacchi's home, but Cavendish also knows the roads well because he trains in nearby Quarrata.