Axelsson takes over GC lead
Spanish Champion Joaquím Rodríguez took charge on the 20 percent gradients of Tirreno-Adriatico's Montelupone to win stage three and move into third overall. The 28 year-old of Caisse d'Epargne attacked near 200 metres remaining to distance LPR Brakes leader, Danilo Di Luca, who finished second at 12 seconds. Swede Niklas Axelsson (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) rode strong and finished third to take the overall leadership from Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld), who finished sixth.
Rodríguez, whose last win came in July with the Clasica de Ordizia, launched soon after Italian Champion Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) was captured. "I am really happy", explained Rodríguez after the finish in Montelupone. "Yesterday I already felt good but I missed the good breakaway. Today I knew that the stage was really a difficult one, most of all because of the final climb, with some passages at 20% where the speed was not faster than 6 kph.
"I attacked at 300 metres from the finish and I gave it all 'til the finish. I am really satisfied because this climb looked like the Mur de Huy, which is the final climb in the Flèche Wallonne, but harder! Considering the fact that this race, together with Liège-Bastogne-Liège, is one of the main objectives of my season, my victory today is really a good sign and also the proof that my preparation has been the right one 'til now."
The Caisse d'Epargne rider moved himself up higher in the general classification with his victory, but isn't confident that he can move up. "I am now the third overall, but because of the long time trial that is still to come, I don't think that I have a chance to win the general classification."
Still, the Spaniard showed he is ready for the upcoming Classics by putting 12 seconds into 'The Killer' Di Luca in the final 200 metres. The Italian was nonetheless satisfied with his form ahead of the Ardennes Classics.
"It was a lot harder and longer than the Mur de Huy – terrible!" said Di Luca after finishing second. "I am happy to already be showing form at the Tirreno-Adriatico, it is an important sign for me."
"It was a very hard finish, they said 20 percent, but it felt like 27," said Gasparotto while wearing the leader's maglia azzurra that he soon after handed over to 35 year-old Axelsson. "Compliments to Niklas Axelsson, he did well. I am in second, and I will hope for a good time trial."
The day was marked by the two-man escape of José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne) and Loyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale), which was reeled in before the first of two ascents of the 1.78-kilometre Montelupone.
Early in the day, Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) were involved in a crash. Italian Riccò stayed on the ground before remounting and finishing the stage near 15 minutes down.
"The road was dirty and I crashed. Today was the day for me, I was feeling good, but... The season has started bad. I hope that later on I will have better luck," noted 'The Cobra' from Formigine (Modena).
How it unfolded
166 riders rolled out of Gubbio at 10:43 for the start of the third day of the 43rd Tirreno-Adriatico, a westward run into Italy's Le Marche region. Attacks went from the gun, and by kilometre 17 Alan Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Mickaël Delage (Française des Jeux) had worked free. Their advantage of 26 seconds was soon washed clear at kilometre 28.
Only three kilometres later, kilometre 31, the day's major escape was formed with Spaniard José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne) and Frenchman Loyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale). By kilometre 43 they had 4'13" and at the Passo del Cornello GPM (km 49.7) they had 5'22".
The duo's gap rocketed up to eight minutes, but they were too need more as there were two passages of the wall, the 1.78-kilometre climb of Montelupone (the second being the finish).
As tensions rose and the riders zoomed towards Montelupone, there was a crash at kilometre 160 with Riccò, Boonen, Freire and Joost Posthuma (Rabobank). The riders were all able to get back up and continue.
It was at the top of the first passage that the race was coming back together. Mondory struggled and remained in at the head of affairs over the top of the climb, topping out at 263m. He had 30" on a wobbling Garcia and 1'25 on the main chasers, led by race leader Gasparotto and Thomas Lövkvist (High Road).
A group containing World Champ Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) passed the Montelupone later on, many of the riders forced to dismount and walk up the steep gradients.
Serramenti and LPR Brakes were hammering at the front for Axelsson and Di Luca, respectively. Paolo Savoldelli, Jure Golcer and Daniele Pietropolli (all LPR Brakes), and Daniele Nardello and Alessandro Bertolini (both Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) where the notable workers making the pace.
Their efforts thinned the group down, picked up the leading duo (at kilometre 178) and set up the race for the final run of Montelupone. In the lead group was race leader Gasparotto, George Hincapie (High Road) and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), among others.
The green wave of LPR rounded the right-hander first to start Montelupone, where Italian Champ Visconti fired at 1100m remaining. 200 metres later he had a five-second gap on a group that was waiting for the "horrible" finale. Fiery Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare) led the chase to pick up Visconti, which led the launch of Rodríguez.
Many riders could not handle Montelupone's stiff gradients and were forced to walk the final 200 metres. Conditions were made worse when a race motorbike fell over, blocking many of the late arrivals. However, Frenchman and early escapee, Loyd Mondory, did ride his bike all the way home.