Tirreno-Adriatico opener comes down to a tight sprint

Oscar Freire lifts his arms to celebrate his win

Oscar Freire lifts his arms to celebrate his win (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

In a nail-biting stage one finish at the 43rd Tirreno-Adriatico, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) narrowly beat Italian favourite, 34 year-old Alessandro Petacchi (Team Milram). The Spaniard finished off a long sprint and, while fading at the end, held off the charging Petacchi. Freire wasn't too sure about his condition before the race, but after it was over, no one had any doubt he was going well as he prepared for Milano-Sanremo. Third was Jose Joaquín Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne).

"We knew it would be difficult to manage this finale and the nervousness in the group was high in the last kilometres," said Petacchi after the race. "I was at risk of going down about one kilometre from the finish, and [Erik] Zabel only managed to position himself in front of me at the very end. [Robbie] McEwen did another great showing, getting out of the last turn with a few metres on Zabel, Freire and me. Oscar managed to start the sprint a few seconds before me, because I was still in the turn, while he had already straightened his bike. There were only 180m left and catching Freire is not easy."

Third placed Joaquín Rojas said, "I am very happy because I feel strong and I have totally recovered from my crash in the Challenge of Mallorca. I was good position in Freire's wheel but in the last curve I lost some positions and then it was no longer possible to come in front. Anyway I am confident for the next stages where I hope to be able to get a better result than I did today."

Tiziano Dall'Antonia, of CSF Group-Navigare was one man disappointed with his final sprint. "Approaching the last climb I wasn't feeling so good, but during the climb my legs started to roll well and, as Maxi [Richeze] was having some difficulties breathing, I could have a try in the sprint. Just before the last 'S', at 400 metres from the line, I had caught Freire's wheel, but unfortunately Ciolek was able to overtake me and I lost some decisive positions. It's a shame - when I'm working for someone else's sprint I never let anybody pass me; when I have to take the sprint myself, sometimes I'm not aggressive enough."

The sprint came after a 110km long break including Russian Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and Ukrainian Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was caught just four kilometres before the finish.

Thursday's stage two will lead the peloton from Civitavecchia to Gubbio over 203 kilometres of winding roads with five kilometres of light climbing, with less than a two percent grade, at the end.

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