The Czech Republic's Jan Hruska, has won the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia cycle race in Rome. He narrowly beat Paolo Salvoldelli to take the leader's pink jersey.
Saturday's prologue of six kilometres through Rome and along the Tiber river, ended in front of St Peter's Square. Sunday's 125 kilometre stage will take the riders from Rome to Terracina.
The 3,700 kilometre marathon will take the 72 cyclists across Italy to finish up in Milan by June 4. The race will be broken up into 21 stages. Switzerland's Daniel Schnider, Pascal Richard and Niki Aebersold are participating in the 22-day event.
Italy's Marco Pantani announced on Friday that he would take part in this year's event. He made the statement after an audience with Pope John Paul, adding that he hoped the Pontiff's blessing would give him a helping hand. However, Pantani added that his goal was simply "being there, not for winning."
Pantani's presence adds a much-needed star to the Italian team. Recently, he has been beset by doping allegations and doubts about his form. He was kicked out of last year's Giro, which he was leading with ease, after failing a blood test in the next-to-last stage. Pantani won in 1998 and will have to reclaim the title from defending champion, Ivan Gotti.
The Swiss participants are up against tough competition, including Paolo Salvoldelli, who is fresh from his victory in Switzerland's Tour de Romandie. A Swiss victory is unlikely - the best the riders can hope for is to win some of the stages.
swissinfo with agencies