Di Luca continues in Rosa
German Robert Förster handled the final curves through the streets of Frascati with ease and successfully held off Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) to win stage five. In third was Milram's Alessandro Petacchi, who bumped shoulders all the way to the finish with Maximiliano Richeze (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare). Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) finished safely with the front-runners to keep the race leader's Maglia Rosa.
The 29 year-old Gerolsteiner sprinter, winner 2006's stage into Milan, scored his second Giro win. Thanks to the help of teammate Thomas Fothen and then Oscar Gatto, he was able to edge up on the Milram train. Italy is proving a land of plenty for Förster, who now has two wins for 2007, his first being in Italy's Coppi e Bartali.
"The last three or four kilometres of stage were very dangerous," recalled the stage winner, Frösi. "I went head-to-head with Napolitano, who pushed me towards barriers. It's not really guys like Petacchi or McEwen who cause problems, the regular sprinters, but more so the lesser riders who aren't normally there in the sprint."
"The sprint was a bit crazy – we swung right, left... It was dangerous. I had good legs, I took a lot of risks but it was worth it."
After the capture of Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems), the final 20 kilometres of the day's finale were animated with several small attacks. None of the aggressions were able to bear fruit and the control of the race fell upon the shoulders of Petacchi's Milram train.
Lancaster and Ongarato were there to make sure Ale-Jet had his chance at winning a second stage in the 2007 Giro but they could not account for the opportunist teams of Crédit Agricole, Gerolsteiner and Panaria. It was the latter that gave Petacchi so much difficulty.
Petacchi was having a hard time staying on the wheel of Ongarato coming into the final 450 metres. He was over-powered by Argentinean Richeze and forced to take the right-hander onto Via Vittorio Veneto on the outside. He nearly crashed himself into the barriers and gave Richeze a nudge in the fight for space.
"I was there when Ongarato started," recalled the winner of stage 3. "I got stuck on the outside through the turn. I pushed Maximiliano with my hand, otherwise I would have crashed. ... If I did not reach out to touch Richeze then I would have ended up on the street. Basta!"
Richeze, probably scared of the respected sprinter, faded fast after the incident to finish in seventh, behind Danilo Napolitano (fourth), Robbie McEwen (fifth) and Alexandre Usov (sixth).
"Petacchi, after the finish, gave me a little punch," recalled Richeze. "I don't know what to think. I had my right to be there, if not then I would have been the one pushed out. I made my sprint and I think I did well."
Liquigas had a day of rest in the sense that it did not have to ride in defence of its race leader Danilo Di Luca. The 31 year-old rider from Abruzzo kept the Maglia Rosa that he claimed yesterday on the slopes of Montevergine.
"Today was the first calm stage for us," said the Liquigas captain. "I hope tomorrow will be another calm day like today."
He commented on the finale. "I know that arrival was very fast, with lots of curves," he concluded.
How it unfolded
At 13.03, Stage 5 started under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-twenties with 190 riders heading out on via 26 Ottobre. Caisse d'Epargne's Joan Horrach did not start due to injuries sustained in yesterday's maxi-crash. Once again it was Tinkoff on the move. For the rookie squad, in their first Grand Tour, 22 year-old Mikhail Ignatiev was in the mix from the get-go.
The Russian got a gap and was joined by 27 year-old Cofidis rider Mickaël Buffaz (Cofidis) after 15 kilometres near Taverna San Felice. Five kilometres later, the gap was one minute and rising fast. After 35 kilometres, the duo got its maximum lead of 5'30", but the gruppo began to ride harder.
At Cassino, just below the Abbey of Montecassino, site of brutal fighting between German and American forces in WW2, the gap was back down to five minutes and the average speed for the first hour was 45.1 km/h.
Along the via Casalina, where Garibaldi marched towards Rome in 1969, Ignatiev and Buffaz marched along towards Frosinone at mid-stage, where Buffaz took the Garibaldi intermediate sprint, 3'45" ahead of the Liquigas-led gruppo. At the feed-zone with 63 kilometres to go, the gap was dropping, now at three minutes.
After he ate lunch, the powerful young Russian decided to have Buffaz for dessert and he dropped the French rider on the early slopes of the climb to Angani, where the Tinkoff rider held a lead of 2'40". 40 kilometres to go, with the Colle Albani south of Rome looming in the background, the Tinkoff trooper was pounding away alone as Petacchi's Milram and McEwen's Predictor squads cranked up the pace.
The valiant young Russian resisted the onslaught of the chasing gruppo as he passed the quaint village of Artena, and onto the first slopes of the final climb of the day. It was on Le Macere, with 18 kilometres left to race and after 139 kilometres of liberty, that Ignatiev was caught.
Frantisek Rabon (T-Mobile) made the first move but it was brought back by the chasing gruppo. A counter-move headed by 'Lele Sella (Panaria) enabled the miniscule climber from Vicenza to take the GPM atop the Le Macere climb. It turned into gruppo compatto on the 10 kilometres descent to Frascati among the famous vineyards where the fresh, tasty white wine is produced.
Once in the town, in the last five kilometres, there were a few moves; one was with two of the biggest characters in the sport of cycling, Matty White (Discovery Channel) and Totò Commesso (Tinkoff) but the Milram-led chase brought the dynamic duo back.
With three kilometres to race, another Tinkoff trooper, Elia Aggiano, made a solo move but once again, the Milram monster swallowed it up, leaving 1.8 kilometres to race.
Under the red kite with one kilometre to race, the pace was fast as the road was still going downhill into the centre of Frascati. Crédit Agricole's Angelo Furlan was leading the way for Thor Hushovd, but Brett Lancaster of Milram cranked it up for Petacchi and took the lead again.
Ongarato took over for Petacchi with 500 metres to go and as the road curved left, then right. Panaria's Max Richeze got inside Petacchi and took Ongarato's wheel, and then Richeze moved inside to the left as the road curved right, closing Petacchi's line.
Big Thor was hurling himself towards the finish line on the right side of the road with 100 metres to go, while Petacchi had got his momentum going again on the left as Richeze slowed. The Milram man had shoved Richeze out of the way with 70 metres to go and tried to wind it up to his top end.
McEwen seemed to sit up in front of Hushovd and the Crédit Agricole rider had to swerve around the Australian at the last minute in his bid for victory. Suddenly, Gerolsteiner's Robert 'Frösi' Förster zigged left when Thor zigged right and like the gates of heaven, the road opened up for the German sprinter as he passed over the finish line first. Realizing he had won, he raised his hands in victory with an incredulous smile on his face.
Thor took second on the right, while Petacchi managed to make it back to third in the tumultuous sprint. Afterwards Petacchi and Richeze exchanged rude words on Italian TV but nonetheless the win went to Frösi.
Stage 6 - Friday, May 18: Tivoli - Spoleto, 177 km
Starting from the ancient Roman town of Tivoli, 30 kilometres east of the Italian capital, Stage 6 heads due east through the rolling climbs of Monti Sabini before ascending the tough 21-kilometre long Monte Terminillo at mid-stage, the first of three GPM's in the final 110 kilometres of the stage.
A breakaway of opportunists will certainly hit out on the climb of Terminillo towards Spoleto, site of a world famous opera festival every summer. The finale includes the ascent of the Forco di Serra, 17 kilometres from the finish, where a counter-attack could be crucial.
Will there be changes in the Giro's hierarchy Friday evening? Doubtful, as Liquigas looks too strong to let things get away from them.