Diego Ulissi wins Italian kickoff to 2013 Tour of Poland

American Alex Howes cracks the top 10, finishing eighth, as the Tour of Poland begins with two stages in Italy

Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) won the first of two Italian stages of the 2013 Tour of Poland on Saturday.

For the first time in its history, the tour began outside Poland, with two stages in the Dolomites. The first, a mountainous 184.5km leg from Rovereto to Madonna di Campiglio, featured one category-2 climb and two cat.-1 ascents, including the finale, which saw Ulissi spring to the victory from a 15-man group ahead of Darwin Atapuma Hurtado, (Colombia) and Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff).

The opener was not particularly fast, but it was rich in breakaways. In the early kilometers, eight riders escaped, and four — Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura), Marco Pinotti (BMC Racing), Cédric Pineau (FDJ) and Serge Pauwels (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) — stayed away for nearly 170km.

Huzarski and Pauwels were the last men standing, and they were retrieved 13km from the line.

Then another group of 15 riders got away, and Ulissi proved the strongest of them in the finale, out-kicking Hurtado and Majka, who finished second and third in the same time as Ulissi.

American Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp) cracked the top 10, finishing eighth, also in the same time.

“I’m really happy to have taken the victory today, for myself and for the whole team,” said Ulissi, who donned the first leader’s jersey of the tour. “Now the first step is done, so we must continue on this path and try to bring home more wins until the end.”

On the overall, Ulissi leads Hurtado by four seconds with Majka third at six seconds.

Sunday’s stage 2 is a 206.5km leg from Marilleva Val di Sole to Passo Pordoi Val di Fassa. Stage 3 takes the peloton into Poland for a 226km stage from Krakow to Rzeszow.

Race note

Two big names — Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, and Bradley Wiggins (Sky), champion of last year’s Tour de France — were distanced on the very first stage. Wiggins finished 58th and Nibali 60th, the two stars more than nine minutes in arrears.