Cavendish takes Tirreno lead as Omega wins TTT

SAN VINCENZO, Italy (AP) British sprinter Mark Cavendish leads the Tirreno-Adriatico after his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team won a time trial to open the weeklong cycling race on Wednesday.

Omega clocked 20 minutes, 13 seconds over the flat 18.5-kilometer (11.5-mile) route from Donoratico to San Vincenzo.

It was an identical start from last year, when Cavendish also took the lead with an Omega win.

”The team is stronger than last year,” Cavendish said. ”We went fast, we went hard, but the faster you go in the team time trial the easier it feels. We were really smooth with the pace the whole way. You almost feel like you didn’t go fast enough when it’s like that.”

One of the greatest sprinters of all time, Cavendish has had a slow start to this season, with his only individual win coming in a stage of the Tour of Algarve last month.

Three-time time trial world champion Tony Martin was again the main engine behind Omega’s success, which should benefit Michal Kwiatkowski and Rigoberto Uran, who are aiming for the overall win.

”We tested the route several times and nobody had a big ego and wanted to stand out,” Cavendish said. ”Obviously Tony is very strong at time trialing but nobody – not even him – wanted to do too much. We all worked together as well as possible and it went great.”

Orica Greenedge finished second, 11 seconds behind, and Movistar – featuring Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintana – was third, 18 seconds behind.

Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff Saxo placed fourth, 24 seconds behind. Sky, with Bradley Wiggins and Richie Porte, was sixth, 27 seconds behind.

Porte was added to Sky’s squad last week when Tour de France winner Chris Froome announced that he would sit out the race due to a back injury.

Stage 2 on Thursday is a 166-kilometer (103-mile) leg from San Vincenzo to Cascina that sets up well for sprinters like Cavendish.

”I have a team that’s really set up well for the sprints,” Cavendish said. ”And we’re strengthened by the arrivals of (Mark) Renshaw and (Alessandro) Petacchi.”

Including a couple of uphill stages, the race ends on Tuesday with an individual time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto.

Many riders use it as a warmup for the Milan-San Remo classic, which is slated for March 23.