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Weekend Action: Italian and Spanish Openers

Although I haven't gotten too swept up in the on-road action yet, the fact is the season is pretty much underway. The latest Cycling nation to kick off its road calendar is Italy, home to Saturday's G.P. Costa degli Etruschi. The race cruises around the Tuscan coast, through such cycling towns as Bibbona, La California (Bettini's home), Donoratico, and ending in San Vincenzo. Apparently the race is now being dedicated to Sauro Bettini's memory. Anyway, there are two trips over the Guardistallo (250m), to soften up the legs, but not enough to keep the sprinters away. Past winners include Mario Cipollini and Jaan Kirsipuu, while Alessandro Petacchi has won the last four runnings. So yeah, it's a sprinters' race.

Petacchi will be there, though other potential sprinters include Ivan Dominguez (!), Robbie Hunter, and Andrea Noe; other fastmen include Filippo Simeoni, Giovanni Visconti, Luca Paolini, the Lampre A-team (Gavazzi?!? Cunego, Gaspa, etc.), Alberto Loddo, and my personal favorite, Alessandro Maserati. I don't know much about him, but he must be fast. If anyone has a suggestion about how to find video, feel free to pass it on.

Sunday the curtain goes up in Spain, for the running of the Challenge Mallorca. This is purely a waterfront circuit, flat and exposed, though Philippe Gilbert stole the show here and in the overall five days of different GP circuits. Confirmed startlists are pretty hard to come by at the moment, but the pro tour mettle will be on display: Milram, Katyusha, Liquigas, Caisse d'Epargne, Columbia, Euskaltel, Rabobank, Quick Step and Cofidis all in the casa. My pick? Er, em... Kenny De Haes.