By Jeff Jones and John Trevorrow
After the third day of the 88th Giro d'Italia, the Australian contingent is enjoying more Grand Tour success with two stage wins, two pink jerseys, and the lead in the points classification to boot. Today's second stage finished - as predicted - in a bunch sprint in Santa Maria del Cedro. What was not predicted was Alessandro Petacchi's loss in a stage that seemed tailor made for his usually superb leadout train. Despite Fassa Bortolo setting it up well with two men ahead of Petacchi with 1 km to go, a big push by Credit Agricole's Jaan Kirsipuu derailed the train and kept Petacchi closed in. Davitamon-Lotto's Robbie McEwen benefited from Kirsipuu's acceleration and jumped from behind the Estonian's wheel with 100m to go to take the stage win and the maglia rosa in the process.
"This is up there," said McEwen afterwards. "It's nice to win a big bunch sprint in a Grand Tour when everyone is there and there is not a hill out the road that will drop some sprinters, and no corners were people will say I flicked through a small gap. Today I can say I was the cleverest and the strongest. Tomorrow, who knows, it may be someone else but today was my day."
But McEwen's win came at the expense of Alessandro Petacchi, who felt he had been boxed in by Kirsipuu with 250m to go, and accused McEwen and Kirsipuu of working together. "I'm disappointed not to have won the stage and above all, the maglia rosa," said Petacchi. "In the finale I was aware of the agreement between Kirsipuu and McEwen to try to put me in difficulty, but what annoyed me the most was the way in which the Estonian moved towards the wheels of Ongarato and Velo. If we end up on the ground at that speed, we do ourselves a lot of damage."
McEwen shrugged off Petacchi's allegation of collusion: "Let's put it this way, this is not athletics, we are not running in lanes. There is no conspiracy. There was absolutely, positively, no talk of Kirsipuu taking someone out of the way. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and benefited from their clash. You can't push Jaan Kirsipuu out of the way when you feel like it, he's like a block of cement. Kirsipuu just kept going and I stayed in his slipstream which is pretty big, he's a big solid guy."
Click here to read the full interview with Robbie McEwen
More post-race comments
Baden Cooke (Francaise des Jeux, 5th): "It was pretty dangerous today. I got Petacchi's wheel which is normally the best place to be, but Kirsipuu moved up on the outside and head-butted him. Then Robbie went left and I had to go right and I nearly hit the barrier. Then I got blocked by the Illes Balears rider [Galvez]. But my legs felt really good and I reckon I'm not far off winning one."
Cooke couldn't believe Petacchi's post-stage comments about McEwen and Kirsipuu working together. "You're joking. That's bullshit. He's getting paranoid. After Robbie went to the left and I went to the right, we actually came together against Petacchi and I thought he would have been whinging after the finish that Robbie and I were working against him. But that's bike racing and that's what happens in a rough sprint."
Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis, 7th): "I felt a lot better today. I'm still lacking racing, but I'm coming good. I managed to keep out of the carnage today because it was certainly rough."
O'Grady's response to Petacchi's comments was similar to Baden Cooke's: "What a lot of bullshit. Welcome to our world Petacchi. We go through that every race. With the leadouts going, he's been up there protected; we have this battle every race. This is not soccer, it's road sprinting! There's an unwritten code that you don't jump in on a leadout train but Fassa weren't going fast, enough otherwise Kirsipuu wouldn't have been coming past, sticking his head in there so far out."
Matt White (Cofidis, 119th): "It was a rough start to the Giro. We were stuck up on a mountain for three days in the wind, rain and hail. Today was a typical day in the Giro, cruise early, tempo in the middle, and then a mad dash at the finish.
"I have to finish this Giro, whereas Stuey will stop before the mountains and prepare for the Dauphiné. I will be using this as training for Le Tour."
Nick Gates (Davitamon-Lotto, 180th): "Big day. After 60k I rode on the front until 20 to go and then the boys took over and the boy won. Awesome hey, and the maglia rosa. Must be Aussie week."
Alan Peiper (Davitamon-Lotto DS): What does this mean to the team? "I just had the boss on the line and he was ecstatic," said Peiper. "He sent a text to Robbie just before to say 'Congratulations. We had faith in you.' Everything Robbie asks for, he gets. Marc (manager) works from the standpoint that if the riders take initiative, we stand behind them. Robbie wanted Gates and Vogels here because they're his boys and he got them. Whatever Robbie wants, he gets, but he delivers. Whenever Robbie sprints, he sprints to win. Even if he's not good he goes until he crashes or finishes 25th. But he'll give it everything he's got. Its always like that with Robbie. You can put a team behind him and know he is going to do his best.
Italian journalists are saying Petacchi suggests that there was collusion between Kirsipuu and Robbie. Why would they work together? "You know mate, collusion is not allowed. From the days at the Brunswick track, I know you can get fined for that, so let's not go into that."