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Viviani wins stage 1 of the 2012 Tour of Beijing

Italian wins Beijing opener under clearing skies

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BEIJING (VN) — Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) must like racing in far-flung locales.

In 2010, he won races in Cuba and Turkey. Last year, it was India and China. This season, it’s been Argentina and, with a perfectly timed sprint Tuesday, again in Beijing.

“I was trying to stay cool for the sprint. I knew I had to follow (Edvald) Boasson Hagen, because he always starts his sprint early, so he is a perfect guy to open the door,” Viviani said. “I was second and third a lot in (the Tour of) Poland and the Vuelta a España, so I really wanted to end the season with a victory. I am happy and maybe I can win another stage here.”

The 23-year-old Italian can also win races in Europe and has been making steady progress in the pro ranks, picking up a handful of wins in Italy. This year, he split his focus on the track with a run at the Olympic omnium, where he finished sixth on the boards in London.

For 2013, his focus will be firmly on the road, but he has not forgotten about the Olympics.

“It was a long season for me, because I raced on the track. I was hoping to win a medal in London, but it was not possible,” Viviani said. “If I had won a medal in London, I would probably have stopped the track, but now I will probably keep racing on the track and try to win something in Rio (in 2016).”

With the win and a 10-second time bonus, Viviani also takes the leader’s jersey in what should be a more wide-open Beijing tour, which unfolds in its second edition without an individual time trial.

Crossing the line second was Andrew Fenn (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), with world championship runner-up Boasson Hagen (Sky) in third.

Heavy smog cleared overnight thanks to rain and wind, giving the second edition of the Beijing tour ideal conditions for its opening stage Tuesday at Tiananmen Square.

Fans were allowed closer to the action compared to last year’s security-obsessed version and a curious public lined up to check out the pros under the portrait of Mao Tsu Tung marking the entrance to the Forbidden City.

The peloton pulled back a five-man breakaway with two laps to go as the peloton rode leisurely on a 12-lap circuit course around the Olympic Village in the 117km first stage Tuesday.

Craig Lewis (Champion System) then went on a solo flier. It was a defiant show of strength for Lewis, racing in his first WorldTour event since his horrific crash in the 2011 Giro d’Italia.

“It’s good to be back in a WorldTour race,” Lewis said before the stage. “I’ve been through a lot and I am glad to be racing again at this level. I’ve had a good season and I want to keep building on that going into next year.”

Finish-line bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds for the top three finishers, respectively, will help liven up the fight for the overall, with riders like Boasson Hagen and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) poised for a run at the GC this week.

“I would like to have a nice finish of the season here,” Sánchez said before the start Tuesday. “I had some good luck, with winning the Tour of the Basque Country, and also some bad luck, with crashing in the Tour de France and missing out on the Olympics. I had a good ride at (the Giro di) Lombardia, so I come here with good form. The stage Thursday should settle things on the GC.”

Another man on his way back, RadioShack-Nissan’s Andy Schleck, finished Tuesday and reported that he was comfortable in the saddle.

“My day was better than expected,” he said. “I had no pain and I could stay on the saddle for most of the time.”

Schleck was out of action for four months following a crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June that resulted in a fractured sacrum.

The second Tour of Beijing continues Wednesday with the 126km second stage from Beijing to Mentougou. The route features three climbs, including a first-category summit midway through the stage.

Teams such as Sky, Euskaltel and Garmin-Sharp will likely want to keep a lid on dangerous breakaways to try to keep things together going into Thursday’s uphill finale along the China Wall at Badaling.