World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) and sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) are just three of the big Italian names that will line-up in the coastal town of Civitavecchia on Wednesday (March 14) for the start of the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race.

The seven day race starts on Italy’s west coast, just north of Rome, and travels north east to finish on the Adriatic coast.

While David Millar, Tom Boonen and Daniele Bennati are busy racing south through France in Paris-Nice, most of the Italian favourites for Milan-San Remo have opted to race where the pasta is cooked al dente and the espresso taste good and has a real caffeine kick. All of them will use the sprint finishes and hilly stages to work on their form ready for Milan-San Remo on March 24.

Paolo Bettini crashed on a fast descent in Saturday?s Milan-Turin race but was unhurt, and will start Tirreno determined to win at least one stage. Dutch talent Thomas Dekker (Rabobank) wears number one after winning the race last year, and is again a favourite because of the key 20.5-km time trial stage on Sunday. The stage includes a climb in the second half and so will the suit the lightweight Dekker, but penalise the likes of world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC).

Monday?s sixth stage to San Giacomo ends with a climb up to 1,105 metres and alnog with the time trial, will play a key factor in deciding who takes the red and yellow striped leader?s jersey, the climb should also give us a glimpse of who’s in form for Milan-San Remo.

The opening 160km stage around Civitavecchia on Wednesday is expected to end in a bunch sprint with Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) favourite to win the dash to the line. Petacchi has won and lost sprints so far this season but, as he recently told our sister magazine Cycle Sport, he is determined to get back to his best form after fracturing his kneecap in last year?s Giro d?Italia and wants his Milan-San Remo crown back. Petacchi will have his strongest lead out train to help him, including German veteran, Erik Zabel.

2006 San Remo winner Filippo Pozzato will be out to stop Petacchi, and is expected to shine in the technically difficult, and uphill finishes in Tirreno-Adriatico. The Liquigas rider has already proved himself this year, by winning Het Volk. Both Petacchi (pictured) and Pozzato will face serious competition in the sprints from Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole).

Other riders on the impressive start list include Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Andreas Kloden (Astana), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Peter Van Petegem (Quick Step), Gerald Ciolek (T-Mobile), Jens Voigt and Stuart O?Grady (CSC). Just like in Paris-Nice, race organisers RCS Sport have not invited the Unibet.com team.

Ivan Basso (Discovery Channel) will ride his first race in Italy since wining the Giro d?Italia and being implicated in Operacion Puerto, while Tyler Hamilton will also be in action with his new Tinkoff team.

This year Tirreno-Adriatico will not be broadcast on Eurosport, with the only live coverage expected on Italian television channel Rai Tre. However there will be full coverage of Tirreno-Adriatico every day on www.cyclingweekly.co.uk from our man in Italy Stephen Farrand.

Stages:

Wednesday, 14 March: stage one, Civitavecchia-Civitavecchia (160 km);
Thursday, 15 March: stage two, Civitavecchia-Marsciano (202 km);
Friday, 16 March: stage three, Marsciano-Macerata (213 km);
Saturday, 17 March: stage four, Pievebovigliana- Offagna (161 km);
Sunday, 18 March: stage five, Civitanova Marche-Civitanova Marche Alta (Ind TT 20,5 km);
Monday, 19 March: stage six, San Benedetto del Tronto-San Giacomo Monti della Laga (164 km);
Tuesday, 20 March: stage seven, Civitella del Tronto-San Benedetto del Tronto (177 km).

Previous winners:

2006 Thomas Dekker (NED)
2005 Oscar Freire (ESP)
2004 Paolo Bettini (ITA)
2003 Filippo Pozzato (ITA)
2002 Erik Dekker (NED)
2001 Davide Rebellin (ITA)
2000 Abraham Olano (ESP)
1999 Michele Bartoli (ITA)
1998 Rolf Jaermann (SUI)
1997 Roberto Petito (ITA)
1996 Francesco Casagrande (ITA)
1995 Stefano Colage (ITA)
1994 Giorgio Furlan (ITA)
1993 Maurizio Fondriest (ITA)
1992 Rolf Sorensen (DEN)
1991 Herminio Diaz-Zabala (ESP)
1990 Tony Rominger (SUI)
1989 Tony Rominger (SUI)
1988 Erich Maechler (SUI)
1987 Rolf Sorensen (DEN)
1986 Luciano Rabottini (ITA)
1985 Joop Zoetemelk (NED)
1984 Tommy Prim (SWE)
1983 Roberto Visentini (ITA)
1982 Giuseppe Saronni (ITA)
1981 Francesco Moser (ITA)
1980 Francesco Moser (ITA)

Who do you think will win? See who other CW forum users think will win.

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