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Riccardo 'Ricky' Riccò, 24 of Team Saunier Duval, blasted up the final straight in Tivoli to win...
Contador looks like he worked hard to stay in the lead group.
Riccardo 'Ricky' Riccò, 24 of Team Saunier Duval, blasted up the final straight in Tivoli to win stage eight of the 91st Giro d'Italia, 208 kilometres from Rivisondoli. The Italian from Formigine – winner of stage two in Agrigento and last year's stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo – held off World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner).
"I had grand form," exclaimed Riccò. "I did not think I could do it, but [DS Pietro] Algeri said 'Go, go; do the sprint!'"
Italy's Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) struggled in the finale, but the 25 year-old was able to keep the race leader's maglia rosa.
The race was marked by an escape of five riders, including Australia's Adam Hansen (High Road). The 27-year-old courageously went solo at 12 kilometres remaining as the gruppo closed in; however, he was caught on the five-kilometre (180m rise) uphill finale into Tivoli, which is often used for Tirreno-Adriatico stage finishes.
With a finish tailor-made for riders with an explosive sprint, Saunier Duval-Scott showed that it trusted the often erratic rider, Riccò, and set the pace-making in the race's closing 30 kilometres. Leonardo Piepoli, like last year and in the stages thus far in the 2008 Giro, dedicated himself 100 percent to team's effort. The Italian from Puglia took the reins in the final 2000 metres. "Piepoli is amazing," added the day's winner.
Marking Piepoli was Rebellin, then Riccò, Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) and Bettini. Initially missing was 2007 race winner, Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes). The Italian from Abruzzo got caught up on the descent leading to the final five kilometres, and, once he made his move to the front, attacked hard immediately with 250 metres to go.
Riccò countered this move 75 metres before the line and Di Luca faded on the right. Rebellin had Riccò's wheel, but could not hold and conceded second spot to Bettini, while Pellizotti and Daniele Pietropolli (LPR Brakes) came past for fourth and fifth.
The win in Tivoli marked the third time 'The Cobra' has struck in the Giro d'Italia, but one has to wonder if this early spray of venom is going to leave him weakened for the overall picture. The race hits the high- mountains at the end of next week and he will need all the muscle power he can muster to hold on to the likes of Di Luca, Alberto Contador (Astana) and Pellizotti.
Can LPR Brakes manage this Giro? Yesterday, they seemed to flip the tactics in the last moment on the day when Di Luca wanted to win at home. Today, 'The Killer' found himself out too far back and had to expand a lot of energy on his own to get back to the front.
"I was not left solo, I was with my team-mates," he confirmed to Rai after the race. "I did not want to risk it today." He added, "I was behind, but I was with three team-mates. I went hard to surprise [the others]. I can't win all the days, but I tried."
It was a finish designed for the likes of the man of the Ardennes Classics, Rebellin. "The arrival was one for me," he confirmed. "Riccò did well and he won. It was justified, he showed that his has the best form at the moment." Rebellin will be in the stages to come – "I hope so," he indicated.
Visconti rode well to remain in the pink colour of race leader for another day. The Sicilian looked exhausted at the day's end. He was under threat from Pellizotti for the race lead, but championed through. "For me the sprint was too hard, a series of attacks," he stated with honesty.
"I was still recuperating from two days ago. I am sorry I was not able help Paolo [Bettini]. My team-mates are doing great work for me – working every day. It is great to keep the maglia rosa another day." Tomorrow he will wear the maglia rosa on Bettini's home road, and should be able to keep it until the time trial on Tuesday.
Bettini had his chance today, and will likely be washed away by the faster sprinters on tomorrow's run to San Vincenzo. "I asked a lot of the team and I am sorry I could not win," said the two-time World Champion. "Riccò is very strong and very smart. He used Piepoli wisely.
"I thought that I could win in Tivoli, but it is too bad. Tomorrow, we will be in Toscana, it will be another day."
183 riders took off at 11:53 from Rivisondoli on their quest to Tivoli, 208 kilometres away. The stage started with a hectic flurry of attacks until four riders got clear at kilometre 10. Geraint Thomas (Barloworld), Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner), Alessandro Bertolini (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) and Marlon Alirio Perez Arango (Caisse d'Epargne) only gained a few seconds over the peloton and were brought back after a nine-kilometre chase.
It then took until kilometre 42, when Alessandro Spezialetti (LPR Brakes), Mathieu Perget (Caisse d'Epargne), Fortunato Baliani (CSF Group Navigare) and Adam Hansen (Team High Road) were able to break free. After an hour of racing the average speed was 45.4 km/h, but Daniele Nardello (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), sitting eight place in the overall classification, nonetheless managed to bridge up to the leaders with a solo effort.
After 48 kilometres the gap was 50 seconds from the five leaders to the main bunch, but kept extending. When they went over the category two Forca d'Acero, the gap was up to 2'38", and then stayed fairly stable for several kilometres.
In Sora, after 86 kilometres of racing, a crash brought down race favourite Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana), his team-mate Steve Morabito, Nicolas Hartmann (Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone) and Lander Aperribay (Euskaltel - Euskadi), but all could continue. The pace stayed high, with the second hour covered at almost the same average speed – 45.5 km/h.
The pace remained high at the front, while the peloton took a bit of a breather, allowing the gap extended to five minutes (km 97), and then continue to inch out over the Quick Step-led peloton. Bad news for Astana came after 107 kilometres, when Morabito abandoned the race after his injuries from two crashes in this Giro d'Italia prevented him from continuing.
With the gap staying at around six minutes, the group of Spezialetti, Perget, Baliani, Hansen, Nardello completed the third hour of racing for a total average of 44.8 km/h thus far. The lead started to drop, under a more determined peloton, which was still led by Quick Step to protect the lead of Giovanni Visconti. At kilometre 146, the gap was 5'10.
The special sprint Expo 2015 was won by Baliani, ahead of Nardello and Spezialetti, as the gap fell below the five-minute mark. With 45 kilometres to go the gap had dropped to 3'50, and Quick Step continued to chop away at the lead, hacking another minute and a half off the leader's advantage over the next ten kilometres.
After four hours of racing the average speed was still a quick 43.9 km/h. The lead of the five men fell below the critical one minute mark with 15 kilometres to go. That was the sign for Adam Hansen to leave the quintet and his strong attack on the right hand side of the road with 13 kilometres to go propelled him off the front. He quickly gained half a minute, while the other four were resigned to be gobbled up by the peloton.
Gerolsteiner and Astana finally decided to pitch in to get things together for a sprint, and with a little more than three kilometres to go, Hansen was reeled in and banged on his handlebar in frustration. Tiziano dall'Antonia (CSF Group Navigare) countered immediately, but he too was brought back by the attentive peloton, which set things up for a sprint finish where Riccò prevailed.
The race is back along the coast, this time the Mar Tirreno, for another tailor-made day for the sprinters. The Giro last visited San Vincenzo, near the hometown of World Champion Paolo Bettini, 37 years ago, when Felice Gimondi took the stage.