Elio Viviani wins stage one of the 2012 Tour of Beijing. (Graham Watson)

Courtesy of www.tourofbeijing.net

Italy’s Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) is the first to wear the red jersey of leader of the Tour of Beijing after he took victory on the opening stage in a bunch sprint on Tuesday.

Viviani is already a worthy ambassador for the race as his photo is on thousands of banners all over Beijing City to advertise the event, where his victory in stage four last year was his best success at 22 years-old. Viviani shares headlines with Novak Djokovic around Beijing, with banners also promoting the China Open tennis.

Andy Fenn (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) finished second and third respectively in a sprint made very close and fast by the tailwind and the smooth road passing between the Olympic Stadium – the “Bird’s Nest” – and the Water Cube.

The criterium-like show was flat within the 117-kilometer journey which started from Tian An Men Square and included twelve laps in the Olympic Park. The wind played an important role in the speed and tactics, blowing so strongly that it swept away the gantry on the finish line as soon as it was erected.

Viviani explained Liquigas-Cannondale’s tactic “was to ride near the front no matter what because on a circuit like this, you’d use up a lot less energy.”

“In the final, my teammates helped to get me into position. Then I took Boasson Hagen’s wheel in the last kilometer and I stayed cool on his wheel. I managed to go at the right time and shake him off well in the last 250 meters.”

“I needed to win today because I was not really happy with my latest results,” he said.

Viviani finished second on several occasions across both the Tour of Poland and Vuelta a Espana and his last victory was at the end of March at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali.

“I am happy about this,” Viviani smiled. “I now hope to win on another stage.”

Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), despite the high speed was happy for his second race back from a long layoff with injury, finishing at 21 seconds to Viviani.

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

In the first kilometers of the stage Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing Team) was one of many who unsuccessfully tried to break away.

A five-man group took the lead eight kilometers after the start: Marco Bandiera (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-BigMat), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-CM), Craig Lewis (Champion System Pro Cycling) and Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD).

Malori, who was award for his efforts with the most combative rider following the stage, said: “The wind was crazy and we couldn’t properly understand where it was coming from. So it was easy for the peloton to play with us.”

The breakaway’s gap went up to two minutes forty but the peloton kept the situation under control through Orica-GreenEdge’s strong tempo.

The American Lewis was the last rider to be caught, one and a half laps from the finish, doing justice to his Chinese-based team Champion System Pro Cycling’s call up to the tour. The Tour of Beijing is the first UCI WorldTour race for all but one of his teammates and his first one since the 2011 Giro d’Italia where he rode for HTC-Columbia.

Six seconds of time bonuses were picked up at the two intermediate sprints by France’s Ladagnous, which gives him 3rd place overall behind Viviani and Fenn in the general classification.

The stage’s start from Tian An Men Square was definitely the most emotional part of the day, as the largest square in the world (40 ha) was exclusively dedicated to the Tour of Beijing.

“It’s a privilege the square is just for ourselves,” said France’s Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale).

New Zealand’s Jesse Sergent (RadioShack-Nissan) added: “It’s a nice feeling to be in a place with a lot of history. We are lucky because the wind made the sky sunny.”

Stage two on Wednesday will lead the riders over 126 kilometers from the “Bird’s Nest” to Mentougou, in the western hills of Beijing.

The route suits the sprinters and strong “finisseurs” again, although a category one climb is positioned at halfway, 10.8 kilometers long with an average gradient of 6.4%. The two intermediate sprints, set in the first part of the stage, might inspire the escape artists.