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By Gregor Brown
If you were watching the end of stage four of the 42nd Tirreno-Adriatico on Saturday, you might have thought it was a re-run of the day before. The finale was similar, and the winner was the same - Riccardo Riccò. Only this time, he was fighting off an Astana's Andreas Klöden and Alexander Vinokourov instead of Michele Scarponi (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo). Riccò, 23 years-old, doubled up in Tirreno, scoring two victories in two days, plus, Saturday, he took the leader's yellow and red jersey off the back of Alexandr Arekeev (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo).
In the final 3.7 kilometre run -in to Offagna, he survived the double-barrelled blast from Astana. First Vinokourov, winner of the 2006 Vuelta a España, and then Klöden, launched attacks against the Italian youngster of Saunier Duval-Prodir, but Riccò said 'ciao' to his rivals with 800 metres to go the line in the medieval city.
"This time I waited a little longer before taking off," Riccò explained to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I really have extraordinary condition; in these types of finishes I have been the strongest. Here in Tirreno-Adriatico there are many champions, and to face-off with them is very beautiful."
However, his glory did not last, and in Sunday's 20.5 kilometre time trial, Riccò finished 2'06" down on Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), slipping down to 17th placing on GC. Still, Riccò believes that he can be a threat again on the 164 kilometre stage six to San Benedetto del Tronto. "On Monday finish, with the condition that I have, I will attack again. I am not satisfied; I will fight to the end."
Riccò says his strength is based on increased maturity and preparations over the winter. "I am young and it is natural that with the years I am becoming better in both the legs and, above all, the head," said the second year pro, who he has a contract with Saunier through 2008. "This last winter I made more sacrifices in training and diet." Will the form from Tirreno help him for Milan-Sanremo this coming Saturday? "The distance will be an unknown but I will try to do well. The Poggio [the final climb - ed.] is where I will make my move if I am going good or bad. I will try to make a show."
After Sanremo, Riccò will train with two-time Giro winner, Gilberto Simoni. He will ride in support of his captain during the Corsa Rosa and also try for the young rider's jersey, Maglia Bianca. But it was only three years ago that Simoni went to the Giro with another young gun and after three weeks the two were screaming profanities at each other.
"Simoni has taught me a lot. We did the Tour de France together; he saw me worried at the beginning of every stage, but he told me to stay calm. ... I am not [Damiano] Cunego, I am Riccò. I have my character, and if there is a pact then I respect it."