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Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Cycling-Bettini wins first stage of Tirreno-Adriatico

Reuters

By Stephen Farrand

ROME, March 8 - Former race winner Paolo Bettini of Italy won a sprint finish to claim the first stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico in Tivoli on Wednesday.

The Quick Step rider out-sprinted Erik Zabel of Germany and Thor Hushovd of Norway after his team mates pulled back an early attack on the gradual climb to the finish of the 167-km stage.

Bettini jumped to the front in the final 200 metres and held on in the dash to the line.

"Last year I suffered in this race because I'd had a lot of health problems. This year my form is much better and I've shown it," Bettini told reporters.

"I knew the final part of the stage and timed my effort just right. I have to thank my team mates because they did a great job helping me on the climb to the finish.

"Winning is even nicer when everything goes perfect like that."

Bettini won the Tirreno-Adriatico in 2004 and is keen for a second overall victory.

"I'm not going to hold back. This year's route is tough. The stage five time trial and the uphill finish at San Giacomo on stage six will decide the race," Bettini said.

"Levi Leipheimer and Stefano Garzelli are the big favourites but I've thrown my hat into the ring and I'm going to give it a go."

Tirreno-Adriatico is known as the race of the two seas because it crosses central Italy from the west coast Tyrrhenian sea to the east coast Adriatic.

Thursday's 171-km second stage is from Tivoli to Frascati in the hills south of Rome.