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44th Tirreno-Adriatico - Stage One & Photos
By Fabio
Date: 3/11/2009
44th Tirreno-Adriatico - Stage One & Photos

44th Tirreno-Adriatico - Stage One
The "Two Seas Race" started with a sprinter's stage, many of the world's top fastmen in attendance ... and two reckless guys throwing down the gauntlet to them.

The 2009 edition of the "Race of the Two Seas" (aka Italy's response to the "race to the sun" grandeur) got underway in Tuscany today, with the race opener covering 147 kilometers from Paolo Bettini's hometown Cecina to Capannori near Lucca, and with 25 teams in attendance, latest addition Fuji-Servetto (formerly known as Saunier Duval and Scott-American Beef) included, courtesy of a decision issued by the Switzerland-based CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport).

And it started with Liquigas - and the rest of the field - being told that their 23-year-old neopro Gianni Da Ros, not part of the team roster for this race, was arrested during a team run out at the Padua velodrome in a probe into doping in sport. Eleven more guys involved is such affair, which is not directly linked to cycling anyway (in times like these it's always better to make things clear, isn't it?), were also detained. All of the above happened about one year after a television report entitled ‘Muscles and Doping’, aired by the popular "Le Iene" show on the Italia 1 channel, showed how athletes could obtain doping substances from traders. But, again, it has much more to do with physios and gym staff rather than bike racing.

Much more welcomed by the tifosi was the news that Paolo Bettini ... is soon getting back into the peloton. Even if just on an Italian TV motorbike: the Cricket is reportedly going to follow the race on the RAI motorbike and adding his voice and opinions to those of the Italian commentators in some of the next few bike journeys.

The stage was featured by a great mix of "old" and young guns; the Ukrainian veteran Vladimir Duma (Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce), born in 1972 and currently coached by former multiple Italian RR champion Massimo Podenzana, as well as a young Frenchman going under the name of Julien El Fares and racing with the Cofidis outfit, broke clear of the pack at km. 32, worked perfectly with each other and managed to put up to 11 minutes into the peloton before the sprinter's teams finally reacted.

Julien El Fares leads Vladimir Duma during their long break. 
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

It took long for the gruppo to step up the chase, but when they did, they were quite serious about it, especially with the mighty Team Columbia in the driver's seat and several other jerseys helping the cause; the gap dropped to eight minutes with 50 kilometres to go and 07'10" five km later as Bennati's Liqui-guys took over the task, with a certain Ivan Basso unusually disguised as gregario - but capable of doing a fine job also in this sense.

George Hincapie and company on the front. Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

It got worse for the two courageous escapees as Tom Boonen, the umpteenth sprinting sensation gracing the roads of central Italy these days, sent a couple lieutenants to the front in order to make the pack's step very quick. And quick they were, so quick their time deficit came down to five minutes about 30k from the finish and significantly less at their first passage over the line (26.8 km. to go). Still a solid lead at first glance, but not that much when a flying peloton in full form and harmony are putting the hammer down against four legs experiencing all the impact of some 100 kilometers spent pulling on the front.

The presence of the Valgiano (over 4 kilometers, not so steep in its early piece, but with gradients up to 12 percent near the summit) difficulty in the last twenty kilometers made things harder for Duma and El Fares, whose lead was further down to a mere two minutes and fifteen seconds at the foot of the ascent. The Valgiano thinned down the bunch to 30 riders or so, and took toll also on Mark Cavendish, not because his climbing legs were that bad today, but as the Brit had a mechanical at the worst time possible and it took longer than usual for his team car to reach the guy and give him the assistance he needed. Neither the Columbia bosses told any of their riders to stop and wait for the man, so it was just game over for him. Not for teammate George Hincapie though: the New Yorker himself was riding tempo (with Cancellara struggling off the back of the peloton) while Provence's own Julien El Fares was about to drop "old man" Duma by his wheels as the going got steeper.

Vincenzo Nibali and Davide Rebellin join Hincapie on the front in the chase.
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

The 24-year-old from the south of France came first atop the ascent with a decent lead of 01 minutes and 55 seconds on the forefront of (the remainders) of the peloton, now driven by Vincenzo Nibali. Still in between was the Ukrainian, but Duma was not doomed: he caught the Frenchman in the twinkling of an eye in the final descent to the line. Neither of them was giving any signs of surrender, albeit with the Liquigas chase machines lining up on the front and making the pace blistering, also to keep a lead of over one minute in just half a dozen kilometers might have looked a hard task. Still, the front runners never stopped cooperating, and the "team pursuit" put in by Liquigas wasn't bearing fruit: the peloton was 50 seconds down as Duma and El Fares were going under the red triangle.

They could mess up everything only if they just stopped pedaling, but of course didn't, and the stage ended the way it had begun, as a two-man affair. That became Julian El Fares' own thing as the Frenchman prevailed over Duma (and also over some strong hedwind) to claim line honors and capture the first overall leader's mantle.

Daniele Bennati (3rd) finished ahead of AleJet Petacchi (4th), Tom Boonen (5th) and Fabian Wegmann (6th), as well the rest of the bunch, in the sprint for third place, only a dozen seconds behind the winner. Ah, if they only had started the chase a little earlier, or some other teams had been more helpful to Liquigas late in the pursuit... Opinions shared by Daniele Bennati, who "used" his first after-race interview to complain about the behaviour of the other sprinter's squads.

But neither things happened, so just kudos to Julien El Fares, born on June 1st 1985, who "picked" Capannori as the best place to open up his own account as a professional rider. Bravo Julien!

The finish: El Fares and Duma... Julien celebrates his first pro win.
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Thanks to Julien El Fares, the atheist son of a Muslim father of Algerian heritage and a Christian mother, the French made their way back onto a "two seas race" podium nine years after Laurent Jalabert pipped Rebelllin at the line on March 10th, 2000. El Fares (whose last name means "the knight" in Arabic) is no Jaja, okay, but he has all the right to be over the moon after this success: "it was an incredible day, I'm very happy. I stayed cool in the sprint, while Duma was feling the pressure more than I was. The peloton waited too long before starting the chase and eventually couldn't bring us back".

Julien "the Knight" got in the saddle first at the age of six; he wasn't a fan of any bike racers in particular but liked this sport a lot. He doesn't sound too confident about cycling's chances to improve as a sport in Algeria though: "bike racing is no easy thing there, you know. They lack money, the streets are not good, and the heat is terrible".

The race resumes tomorrow with another all-Tuscan effort of 177 kilometers between Volterra and Marina di Carrara. Daniele Bennati and the other top sprinters could get their redemption after missing a chance today, provided they are very careful on the short (about 2,800 meters) but steep (gradient up to 12 percent) Bedizzano climb, coming a dozen km. from the finish, as well as the following, demanding descent into Carrara.

Cofidis' Julien El Fares in the race leaders jersey. Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Stage 1 (Cecina to Capannori, 147 km.): Top 6 Places
1. Julien El Fares (Fra - Cofidis) - 03h34'03"
2. Vladimir Duma (Ukr - Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce) - s.t.
3. Daniele Bennati (Ita - Liquigas) - at 12"
4. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita - LPR-Farnese) - at 12"
5. Tom Boonen (Bel - Quick Step) - at 12"
6. Fabian Wegmann (Ger - Team Milram) - at 12"

Bennati, Petacchi and Boonen sprint for the final podium step.
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

44th Tirreno-Adriatico: GC after Stage 1 - Top Places
1. Julien El Fares (Fra - Cofidis) - 03h33'50"
2. Vladimir Duma (Ukr - Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce) - at 05"
3. Daniele Bennati (Ita - Liquigas) - at 21"
4. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita - LPR-Farnese) - at 25"
5. Tom Boonen (Bel - Quick Step) - at 25"
6. Fabian Wegmann (Ger - Team Milram) - at 25"

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