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Today is one for the sprinters at Tirreno-Adriatico. Will Mark Cavendish take the win and defend his leader's jersey?
Tirreno-Adriatico continues today with the race's longest stage, 232km from Indicatore to Narni Scalo. It is the first of two consecutive stages for the sprinters, and we expect to see Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel slug it out.
We have a three-man escape group, with Kevin Hulsmans (Vini Fantini), Cesare Benedetti (NetApp-Endura), and Garikoitz Bravo (Euskaltel-Eusakdi), currently with a 8:30 minute advantage with 100km to go. Hulsmans got away at km 29 and was soon joined by the other two.
The gap had been up to 9 minutes, but has come down slightly over the last 30km.
There are two big races going on right now, so of course we also have two live reports going! Check out the Paris-NIce report -- but be sure to come back here, too!
There were two ranked climbs early on, and the course then became rolling, before turning flat for the final 60 km or so. Sorry we can't tell you who picked up the points, or rather, we can guess which three riders got points, but don't know in which order.
You will remember that the race opened yesterday with a team time trial. As expected, world champion Omega Pharma-QuickStep rather easily won it, and even managed to send Mark Cavendish as first across the finish line, so he is wearing the leader's jersey today.
The top ten in the TTT:
1 Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:19:24
2 Movistar Team 0:00:11
3 BMC Racing Team 0:00:16
4 Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:00:19
5 Astana Pro Team 0:00:20
6 Orica-GreenEdge 0:00:24
7 Sky Procycling 0:00:25
8 Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:29
9 Lampre-Merida 0:00:35
10 RadioShack Leopard 0:00:36
And the top ten in the general classification:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:19:24
2 Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
3 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
4 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
5 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
6 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team 0:00:11
7 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team
8 Andrey Amador Bakkazakova (CRc) Movistar Team
9 Jonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spa) Movistar Team
10 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Movistar Team
It is unfortunately wet again today in Italy. Let's hope it dries off before the sprint finish.
It looks to be not raining at the moment at the finish, but the road is wet.
We understand there was one DNS today: Sylvain Georges of AG2R, who finished outside the time limit yesterday.
And now we know who took the mountain points. At the first climb, it was Bravo ahead of Benedetti and Hulsmans. The second climb saw Benedetti ahead of Bravo and Hulsmans. We understand that Bravo will take the KOM jersey.
With 74km to go, the gap is 4:03. And it is pouring down rain on the three escapees.
Our Steve Farrand is at the race, and heard from Mark Cavendish at the start this morning.
"I hope it’s a sprint finish today. I won last year and I'd like another one today.
"It's a technical finish because there's a corner with 1000m to go. It's the same finish line as last year, so we know it.
"It's along stage and I just hope the other sprint teams want a sprint. We can't control it all day, but if the other teams help us, we should have a sprint finish."
Who will be riding the Amgen Tour of California this year? You don't have to guess, you can read about it here.
We hear that Georges finished the team time trial yesterday in a time of 25:01, which was 5:37 behind Cavendish. That put him out of the race.
With 68km to go, the gap is 3:48.
The only other ranking we can offer is for best young rider:
1 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:19:24
2 Alex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar Team 0:00:11
3 Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:16
4 Moreno Moser (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:00:19
5 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling
6 Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:25
7 Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Sky Procycling
8 Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:00:35
9 Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Merida
10 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:36
Hulsmans and Benedetti have dropped Bravo and are off on their own. The gap is only 3:04, though.
Bravo is probably happy enough, though, he has secured the mountain jersey.
The two leaders now cross the finish line for the first time. They take off on a circuit course for five laps. The first lap is a bit longer, but the last four are 6.4km.
Bravo crosses the line about a minute down, noshing on a gel to keep his strength up.
Cavendish was thrilled by the team's performance in the TTT, and is also just generally very happy with his new team. He says the change has given him a new motivation.
A crash, right in the middle of the road. It is a Lotto rider, and he looks very unhappy. It is Olivier Kaisen.
We are happy to say that he is back up and riding again.
Very few observers would have picked Movistar to finish second in the team time trial. British rider Alex Dowsett talked to Cyclingnews about how it went.
Still 52 km to go, and the gap has dropped to under three minutes.
The TTT opened up some time gaps between the favourites. Tony Martin, on the winning team, obviously came out best. Cadel Evans (BMC) is now 16 seconds behind him, with T-A defending titleholder Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) at 20 seconds. Then we see Chris Froome (Sky) at 29 secons, Tom Slagter (Blanco) at 37 seconds, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) at 44 seconds, and Dan Marirn (Garmin) is 57 seconds down.
Only two minutes now. And a Lotto rider is at the front of the chasing peloton.
Everyone just crossed the finish line again and Hulsman took the points (and seconds) ahead of Benedetti. Who else but Cavendish dashed out of the peloton to take the final points and bonus seconds?
The gap is now coming down dramatically, and is at 1:29.
Who can we expect to see at the sprint today? Cavendish, of course, and his great rival Andre Greipel of Lotto Belisol. But also: Taylor Phinney (BMC), Tyler Farrar (Garmin Sharp), Roberto Ferrari (Lampre Merida), Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka), Matthew Goss (Orica GreenEdge) and John Degenkolb (Argos Shimano). And let us not forget Peter Sagan of Cannondale, who is always a threat no mattter what.
Hulsmans and Benedetti cross the finish line one again, so there is only about 35km to go. The field isn't all that far back....
It was pouring down rain a few minutes ago. The road is very very wet.
The gap is at 33 seconds now.
Yesterday saw the debut of MTN-Qhubeka, as the first African-based team to ride in a WorldTour race. “We are proud to be at the start of such an important race. Our riders came here from three continents and we didn't really have a chance to train together on our new Trek time trial bikes. So we are just happy to have safely covered the wet course without any crashes. Under these conditions we can be satisfied with the 17th place,“ said sport director Jens Zemke after the team time trial.
“In the coming days we will try to bring attention to ourselves in this community of world class teams. All the riders are highly motivated and looking forward to the upcoming stages.”
The peloton has the leading duo in sight, as they are only 12 seconds behind.
The two leaders acknowledge the end of their action and are absorbed back with 30.7km to go.
Not surprisingly, OPQS is at the front of the field. Not only are they defending the leader, they expect him to win again today.
It is absolutely pouring down rain again. This makes us nervous for the sprint finish.
John Degenkolb of Argos Shimano is a good bet to steal the win away from Cavendish and Greipel today. He hasn't got a win yet this young season, but it probably won't be long until he does. He will have good chances here, as he is the team captain and they will all be working for him.
Another crossing of the finish line and another intermedate sprint. Macej Bodnar of Cannondale was first across, followed by Cavendish and Michal Kwiatkowski, both Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
21km to go, and the pace is staying high. Just now a Blanco rider takes off on his own! It is Sep Vanmarcke.
The Paris-Nice stage has just ended. We won't reveal the winner's name, but you can read it here.
Vanmarcke has discarded his rain jacket -- despite the downpour -- and is still maintaining his slight lead over the field.
Vanmarcke takes his speed out and lets himself be caught.
Nick Nuyens of Garmin Sharp had to drop off the TTT yesterday before even the halfway mark. He is still recovering from two surgeries on a fractured hip, and isn't really happy about how things are going.
Ah, at least for the moment the rain has stopped! How nice!
They hit the flamme rouge for the penultimate time and prepared to take off on the final lap of the circuit course.
Looks like the pace has slowed down a bit. We doubt it will stay that way long...
It will be intersting to see how this mass sprint works out. We now see for the first time the MTN Qhubeka jerseys, bringing Ciolek up near the front.
The pace has certainly picked up now! Francesco Chicchi is now on Cavendish's rear wheel -- and we still have more than 6 km to go!
MTN Qhubeka on the front now, and OPQS taking tender care of Cavendish.
Cannondale goes up the left hand side of the road and take over the lead.
We now see Sky moving up next to Cannondale.
It's a bit hard to pick out all the teams when they have their rain jackets on.
Less than 3km to go now.
The lead riders are starting to look around to see who is where.
Vacansoliel moves to the front and picks up the speed. The mass group is now starting to spread out.
A BMC rider leads the way under the flamme rouge. Cavendish no where in sight!
SAgan near the front and taking off!
But a handful of riders come up at the last minute! A totally unorganized sprint, and we aren't yet 100% sure of the winner.
Matthew Goss of Orica-GreenEdge looks to have taken it.
Greipel and Cavendish, the huge favourites, were nowhere to be found.
Goss is indeed the winner, ahead of AG2R's Manuel Belleti, and Ciolek third.
In fact, MTN-Qhubeka has two riders in the top ten. Kristian Sbaragli finished eighth.
Cavendish still leads the race, and now has two seconds over his teammates. Will that make up for not winning the stage?
Actually, Cavendish pulled off another of his patented tricks. Despite the tactical mistakes and being in a bad position, he managed once again to come out of nowhere and finish fifth on the stage.
Here is the top ten for the stage:
1 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
2 Manuel Belletti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
3 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN-Qhubeka
4 Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida
5 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
6 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
7 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol
8 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) MTN-Qhubeka
9 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling
10 Davide Appollonio (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
And the top ten in GC:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 6:08:02
2 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:02
3 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:03
4 Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
5 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
6 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team 0:00:14
7 Alex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar Team
8 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team
9 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Movistar Team
10 Andrey Amador Bakkazakova (CRc) Movistar Team
That will do it for today! Tomorrow we expect another sprint finish. Will we have another unexpected winner? Join us and find out!