Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is the first sprinter to show he is ready for next week?s Milan-San Remo by winning the opening stage of Tirreno-Adriatico in Civitavecchia on Wednesday.

The three-time world road race champion beat Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Caisse d?Epargne) with a perfect final kilometre and a powerful sprint to the line just as is needed to win in San Remo.

Last year Robbie McEwen won the same stage by diving through the downhill chicane in the final 500 metres. He tried the same move this year but Erik Zabel (Milram) and Freire made sure he did not get a gap and then Freire powered past him to win.

Zabel was working for Petacchi and so sacrificed his own chances to catch McEwen. Petacchi came through the chicane on Freire?s wheel and jumped at the same time but did not have quite enough power to beat him.

As McEwen faded in the final metres, Rojas Gil came passed him to take third and so did Zabel, Baden Cooke (Barloworld), Sebastian Chavanel (FDJ) and Gerald Ciolek (High Road) to fill leading places on the stage. Roger Hammond (High Road) was 30th in the sprint after helping Ciolek.

32 year-old Freire has now won eight stage of Tirreno-Adriatico during his 11-year career. He won the overall classification in 2005.

?I felt good during the stage. I knew it was going to be difficult, especially at the end, but I had a good position going into the last corner,? Freire said.

?Last year McEwen surprised us and got a gap but this time we were ready for him and the sprint went perfectly for me. I went a bit early because McEwen was still out front but I knew I had to take a risk if I wanted to win. Petacchi was close but I just had enough speed to get to the line first.?

The 161km stage was characterised by a long breakaway by Russia?s Mikhail Ignatiev and the Ukraine?s Yuriy Krivtsov. They opened a seven-minute lead but were caught four kilometres from the finish after a determined chase by the Milram and Diquigiovanni teams.

CAVENDISH DROPPED ON CLIMB

Mark Cavendish (High Road) was expected to be a contender in the very technical finish but the British rider was dropped on the final climb of the 160km stage as the peloton chased hard to catch the only break of the day.

Cavendish finished 5-51 behind with Danilo Napolitano (Lampre), Alberto Loddo (Tinkoff). Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream) also finished at 10-06 behind as he continues his comeback after breaking his collarbone at the Tour of Qatar in late January.

RESULTS
1. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) 161km in 4-10-01
2. Alessandro Petacchi (Milram)
3. Juan Joaquin Rojas Gil (Caisse d’Epargne)
4. Erik Zabel (Milram)
5. Baden Cooke (Barloworld)
6. Sebastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux)
7. Gerald Ciolek (High Road)
8. Robbie McEwen (Silence Lotto)
9. Matti Breschel (CSC)
10. Tiziano Dall’Antonia (CSF Navigare) all same time.

Race Leader.- Freire