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12/02 - Stage 2 - Camaiore to Cascina - 153 km

After the opening prologue, it’s now time for the first regular stage of this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico. Today is the sprinters’ first chance to set their mark on the race.

The route
From the start in Camaoire, the peloton takes on 22.2 km circuit including the Pitoro climb. The 2.9 km towards the top have an average gradient of about 7 %. This climb is covered twice before the riders start heading south towards the finishing town Cascina.

As you can see on the profile, the route is very flat. Usually a morning breakaway would be able to gain a big gap on the peloton. However, on the contrary to the remaining stages in the race, this stage is only 153 km long, which means the peloton can’t allow the break too much of a gap.

After about 100 km on the bike, the riders cross the finishing line in Cascina for the first time. From here, they start the 20.6 km long circuit around the city.  There is an intermediate sprint located on the first lap, halfway through the circuit, offering 3-2-1 bonus seconds. The riders will do this circuit twice before crossing the finishing line for the last time. There are a few corners to overcome within the last 2 km but in general it’s a pretty easy final. You can see a detailed map of the circuit in Cascina if you mouse-over the finish area on the stage profile at the top. It’s the same circuit as the one which the organizers used last year. If you want to re-watch how it looks, click here to see a video of last year’s finish.

The favorites
Originally, this was set up to be the first big fight between Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish. Unfortunately, Kittel never made it to the race and Cavendish has recently been under the weather with a stomach virus. The Manxman still managed to put in a great performance in the opening prologue but a 6 minute effort is something very different to a regular stage. You can never count out Mark Cavendish but since both him and his last leadout man, Mark Renshaw, have been suffering from this stomach virus, it’s doubtful if he’s strong enough to win this stage. It may take a few days before he’s on top of his game again.

Instead, Elia Viviani now looks like the prime pick for the stage win. In Tour of Dubai, Viviani was the only rider able to outsprint Mark Cavendish. He’s fresh off the Track World Championships where he proved to be in outstanding shape. He did a very good prologue and without Chris Froome on the team, Elia Viviani might be Team Sky’s best chance of success in Tirreno-Adriatico.

Last year, Matteo Pelucchi took everybody by surprise when he - from a horrible position - managed to fly past everybody on the last 100 meters to win in Cascina. He will be extremely eager to repeat that performance today. Pelucchi already has two wins to his name this season. He’s been very consistent in the bunch sprints and this year, it won’t be a surprise to see him cross the finishing line first. Like many others, Matteo Pelucchi is aiming big at Milano - San Remo. Today’s is an important test for him. IAM Cycling has a strong team to support their fast Italian. I’m sure we will see them take responsibility to set up Pelucchi for the win if he's ready again after he has been suffering from fever lately.

The outsiders
Peter Sagan still hasn’t managed to win in the Tinkoff-Saxo tricot. He’s been close on numerous occasions but not being able to finish it off. He did very well in the opening prologue and I’m sure he will give it a good try today. Stage 3 is tailor-made for him, but in this field - with Mark Cavendish not being at 100 % - I wouldn’t put it past Peter Sagan to win this sprint. He finished 5th in Cascina last year. Personally, I think he will do better this time. If he finishes amongst the first two riders, he will most likely also be the new overall leader of the race.

Lampre-Merida has a very strong candidate in Sacha Modolo. For an Italian team and an Italian rider it’s always important to do well in the Italian races. Modolo has had a solid start to the season but now it’s time to step up.  In Manuelo Mori and Max Richeze, Sacha Modolo has two very good teammates to make sure he’s well-positioned for the final sprint. Last year, Modolo got boxed-in in the final. If he can avoid any bad luck, he should be able to fight for the win today.

As mentioned in the overall preview, MTN Qhubeka brings no less than five sprinters to the race hoping to score a stage win with either Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tyler Farrar, Matt Goss, Gerald Ciolek or Kristian Sbaragli. So far, the Italian has been the best sprinter on the team. It will be interesting to see if Sbaragli will be given a chance to shine on home soil.

Usually, Luka Mezgec would have been one of the favorites but the Slovenian, too, has been sick recently. Therefore, Giant-Alpecin could easily end up doing the sprint for their German youngster Nikias Arndt. For the other strong outsiders look to young sprinters like Jens Debusschere, Magnus Cort, Edwin Avila, Rick Zabel, Nicola Ruffoni and especially Sam Bennett of BORA.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv