Mark Cavendish is the first leader of the 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico, after leading his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team across the line as they won today's Stage 1 team time trial, in a repeat of last year's result. With his former Sky colleague Geraint Thomas moving into the race lead at Paris-Nice, British riders lead the biggest one-week races in both France and Italy.
Today's start town, Donoratico on the Tyrrhenian coast and the finish town, San Vincenzo, were the same as on the opening day 12 months ago, although then, their positions were reversed. The result remained the same, however, with the Belgian team again putting in the fastest time, and Cavendish once again becoming the first leader of the race.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step's line-up, including world time trial champion Tony Martin and last Saturday's Strade Bianche winner, Michal Kwiatkowski, rode the 18.5km course from the town of Donoratico on the Tyrrhenian coast in 20 minutes 13 seconds, with an average speed of 54.905kph.
That was 11 seconds ahead of the previous best time, set by Orica-GreenEdge. The Australian team had been the seventh out on the course this afternoon, and were virtual leaders by the time Omega Pharma-Quick Step set out, with only fellow Belgian team Lotto-Belisol still to start.
Movistar, including British time trial champion and Giro d'Italia stage winner Alex Dowsett, were third, seven seconds behind Orica-GreenEdge. Team Sky, with Richie Porte and Sir Bradley Wiggins in its line-up, placed sixth.
Cavendish, who is targetting Milan-San Remo a week on Sunday after the route of that race was altered to a more sprinter-friendly one, will be looking to keep the race leader's blue jersey for a couple of days, as he did last year - the climbs in tomorrow's Stage 2 and Friday's Stage 3 come early, and both should end in a bunch finish.
After taking the leader's jersey, Cavendish said: “This is our first World Tour race of the year [two riders, Mark Renshaw and Matteo Trentin, also rode in the Tour Down Under - ed], and the team is in good shape.
"Even before today’s stage, I was excited about this TTT the way I haven’t been for a while. The team time trial is very special because all 8 riders need to be in on form on the same day.
"We rode the circuit several times over the past few days. We knew every corner. We were smooth and I felt confident.
"We got everything right, and when you get everything right, it feels easier. Tony [Martin] did half the race alone. Kwiatkowski took big pulls, and everyone else just did what they could to make the team go as fast as possible.’
Cavendish had to deal with a mechanical problem during the stage, explaining: "When we turned left onto the straight road after the descent, we put the power down and my chain came off and my foot came out at 50 kph.
"Tony [Martin] was behind me, and he reached out and touched my back. It didn’t make us go any faster, it was really just to stop crashing, just to stop one of us falling off the bike."
As for when the decision was made that he should lead the team home, he said: "We spoke before the stage about who should cross the line first. There’s a tactic behind it. We have to make the team go as fast as possible.
"There were options, but if it makes the team faster or slower, we have to change. If Tony was behind, I was going to cross the line first. It’s the best thing in the world to be on the podium all together to celebrate."
Looking ahead to the rest of the race, the British champion went on: “I’m excited to start this Tirreno-Adriatico with this team.
"I’m lucky to have Renshaw and Petacchi as my last men, two of the most experienced boys in the sprints. We have a great team all round.
"We want to win in the team time trial, the sprints, the mountains, and the general classification. Kwiatkowski is in great form.
"It’s great to wear the Maglia Azzurra again and I’ll try to win some sprints in the next few days, even if Kittel is here. He is strong, and has a strong team.
"If he has any weakness, it’s that he’s not so aerodynamic as me - but that his only weakness,” he added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.