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Having avoided a big crash, Debusschere latched onto the wheel of the MTN-Qhubeka train and from there he launched his sprint to hold off Sagan and Bennett; Malori defended the lead

Photo: Lotto Soudal














12.03.2015 @ 17:27 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Belgian champion Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) took the first WorldTour win of his career when he became a surprise winner of the first stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. A swerve from Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) caused a big crash but Debusschere avoided the carnage and held off Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) in the sprint while Adriano Malori (Movistar) finished safely to defend the leader’ jersey.


One year ago Jens Debusschere came of age when he won a confusing sprint at the Belgian championships to claim one of the most prestigious jerseys in the cycling world. Apparently, the Belgian sprinter has a taste for hectic finales as he took what was maybe an even bigger win today in similarly difficult circumstances.


Stage 1 of Tirreno-Adriatico came down to the expected bunch sprint after Etixx-QuickStep had worked hard all day to catch a very strong breakaway but it was Debusschere who benefited from the work. In the sprint Mark Cavendish made a big swerve just as his teammate Mark Renshaw launched the lead-out and as a consequence Elia Viviani (Sky) hit the Brit, with the Sky sprinter, Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Luka Mezgec (Giant-Alpecin) being among many riders to go down. Debusschere was in a good position in the other side of the road and so he avoided the carnage to take the first WorldTour win of this career.


The sprint was a very confusing one as no team seemed to be strong enough to take control. With 10km to go, Tinkoff-Saxo were riding on the front with Christopher Juul-Jensen but their main objective was to keep Alberto Contador safe. Meanwhile, the many sprint teams had organized their troops next to the Russian team and were ready to strike.


The lead-outs didn’t want to start too early and so it was the FDJ team which took over, with Matthieu Ladagnous keeping Thibaut Pinot out of trouble. Moments later Andrey Amador and Adriano Malori hit the front for Movistar to keep Nairo Quintana out of trouble.


MTN-Qhubeka had been very well organized and with 5km to go, they kicked into action. Gerald Ciolek, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Reinardt Janse van Rensburg took some massive turns while Tyler Farrar prepared himself to sprint at the back of the train.


Fabio Sabatini moved to the front for Etixx-QuickStep and took a short turn before MTN-Qhubeka were back in control. At this point Giant-Alpecin moved up alongside the South African team and it was a drag race between the two trains.


Going through a turn, the trains got mixed up and it was van Rensburg and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) who set the pace while the lead-outs tried to get reorganized. They even had to slow down to check that their sprinters were still there.


Just before the flamme rouge, Boasson Hagen, Matthew Goss and Farrar hit the front for MTN and the Norwegian took a huge turn as they went under the flamme rouge. When he swung off, Goss did the lead-out and when he started to fade, Renshaw moved up with Cavendish.


That was when Cavendish made his swerve and while he didn’t hit the ground, he was forced to unclip and so was out of contention. Instead, Farrar launched the sprint from the front. Jurgen Roelandts had delivered Debusschere on the American’s wheel and he easily came around the American and held off Peter Sagan and Sam Bennett with a big margin to take the win.


With the second place, Sagan is now equal on time with Adriano Malori but due to the exact times from the prologue, the Italian remains in the lead. However, it will be hard for him to defend the jersey in tomorrow’s second stage which is mostly flat but finishes with 5 laps of a tricky circuit in Arezzo. The final kilometre is very technical and has a gradient of 5%, making it a day for puncheurs, and so it is no surprise that Sagan won the similar stage one year ago.


A flat stage

After the prologue, the sprinters were expected to shine in the 153km first stage which brought the riders from Camaiore to Cascina. After an opening circuit that sent the riders up the Pitorro climb twice, the roads were completely flat and the race ended with two laps of a straightforward 19.7km finishing circuit.


The riders took the start under a beautiful sunny sky but an unusually strong wind was expected to make for some nervous racing. As everybody seemed to expect a bunch sprint, it was no surprise that the first break was the one that stuck when Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani - CSF), Danilo Wyss (BMC), Cristiano Salerno (Bora - Argon 18), Jorge Castiblanco, Carlos Quintero (Colombia) and Martjin Keizer (LottoNL-Jumbo ) took off.


Konrad joins the break

Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18) took off in pursuit and he managed to bridge the gap while Movistar set the pace in the peloton. At the 10km mark, the gap was already 3.25 and as they crested the summit of the first climb, they were 5.40 ahead.


The peloton started to stabilize the situation while Keizer beat Salerno and Zardini in the first intermediate sprint. However, Movistar did not get any help and so the gap stayed constant between the 5- and 6-minute marks.


Etixx-QuickStep start to chase

Quintero led Wyss Konrad and Zardini across the line at the top of the second climb and here the peloton had been reduced to 5.15 after Etixx-QuickStep had started to chase. As Julien Vermote set the tempo, the gap continued to come down and at the 50km mark, it was 4.20.


Etixx-QuickStep still got some assistance from Movistar and Vermote and Francisco Ventoso did a good job to further reduce the gap. After 70km of racing, it was already below 3 minutes but now the escapees rode a bit harder and managed to stabilize it around 2.30 for a little while.


A nervous peloton

The peloton slowed down a bit which allowed the gap to grow back up to 3.10 before Vermote and Ventoso again accelerated. At the start of the feed zone, the gap was 2.27.


The riders were now hitting a crosswinds section and this made the racing extremely nervous. Tinkoff-Saxo also came to the fore and as a consequence, the gap came further down.


Konrad wins the sprint

Things calmed down a bit as Etixx-QuickStep again took over with Vermote but everybody wanted to stay near the front, making for some nervous racing. With 50km to go, the gap was 1.50 and as Tinkoff-Saxo again took over it came down to 1.40.


Keizer tried to win the final intermediate sprint but he was beaten into second by Konrad. At this point the gap was down to just 1.28 and coming down quickly.


Several crashes

With 30km to go, Vermote and Niki Terpstra had brought the gap down to just a minute and now Tinkoff-Saxo were also contributing to the work. This was the signal for the break to start the attacking and after a first split, Zardini made a move.


Quintero and Salerno joined the Italian while the rest of the group was swallowed up. As they started the final lap, they were still 44 seconds ahead after they briefly had managed to reopen their advantage a bit.


A small crash brought down Stef Clement (IAM) and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) as everybody was now fighting for position and with 15km to go, the break was caught. Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo were on the front and now another crash too Matteo Pelucchi (IAM) out of contention and forced Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) to work hard to get back. Moments later, Tinkoff-Saxo hit the front and this signaled the start of the hectic finale.



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