USA's Zabriskie finishes second after holding provisional lead
Time Trial World Champion Fabian Cancellara took the overall lead of the 43rd Tirreno-Adriatico by winning the 26-kilometre time trial to Recanati (Le Marche). The 26 year-old Swiss of Team CSC won with a time of 33'41", 22 seconds faster than USA's David Zabriskie (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) and, more importantly, 60 seconds over third-place Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld), who is now second overall at 16 seconds. Pervious race leader, Niklas Axelsson (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), finished 2'26" back and is now sixth overall.
"I am happy; it is what I wanted. Now, I have to defend it," said Cancellara before stepping onto the podium to take the race leader's maglia azzurra, which he hopes to hold until the race's finish on Tuesday, his birthday. "It would be a nice gift to myself and the team."
Zabriskie, who was one of the first starters of the day, set and held the best time up the final 6.6-kilometre ramp into Recanati – a time that Cancellara could not match. "I think that I lost some time because was an uphill finish, better for the climbers," the day's winner continued. "I think have been competitive at Tirreno."
Cancellara's form is targeted for the week of Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, but he has shown that when the opportunity presents itself he is not afraid to have a go. He took the Tour of California prologue and he won RCS Sport's Monte Paschi Eroica last weekend, and looks likely to conquer the final overall in two days. "We are the start of the year, and the form is still coming on. Just like in Eroica, when there is a chance to battle for the win I will have a go."
Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld) fought hard to win back the overall lead that he held after stage two. The 25 year-old Italian battled against the World Champion; he came only 23 seconds back at the Fontenoce time check (16'52" to Cancellara's 16'29" at km 16) and at the finish he was in fifth, at one minute. He did not win the race overall leadership, but showed to all that he has the form to be a threat in Milano-Sanremo (with team-mates Cooke and Hunter) and in the following one-day races.
The stage parcours in Italy's Le Marche region presented a twisty run on its 26 kilometres from Macerata to Recanati. After 200 metres of descending in the first 6.5 kilometres, there were 13 kilometres before the finale kicked in. With 6.6 kilometres to go the ramp to Recanati started: a gain of 200 metres and a stretch of 12 percent at one kilometre remaining.
The German from Munster, Linus Gerdemann (High Road), challenged for the stage win and the overall leadership; however, he crashed on his left side near the 12 percent stretch. The 25 year-old, wearer of the maillot jaune in the 2007 Tour de France, crossed the line with a time of 34'57" on his backup bike and then immediately sat on the ground. He suffered a blow to his back, left knee and hip, and was put on a stretcher for the Santa Lucia hospital in Recanati where a CAT scan was due to be preformed on his left knee.
Spirits were kept high for the team thanks to Thomas Lövkvist. He may not have taken the attention away from the general classification battle, but he finished third at 54 seconds out and bettered compatriot and national time trial champion, Gustav Erik Larsson (Team CSC) – seventh at 1'12".
Germany had a successful day even if Gerdemann was carried off on a stretcher. Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner), who battled for the best young rider in the 2006 Tour, came home in fourth for the day and proved the country has some young and upcoming time trial riders.
Tirreno is the race were many riders are fine tuning their form for the upcoming one-day Classics, including Milano-Sanremo on Saturday. "It was a test for the other races, I am preparing for Sanremo and Roubaix with this race," confirmed Italian Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), who finished 16th. "There was a lot of wind, and I did suffer a little bit on the [finishing] hill."
Likewise, Australian Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) confirmed his form is coming along for the Northern Classics. "I am cruising along. I am felling better day by day as the race goes on," he said. "Normally, I am never super at this race, I think I will be good at Sanremo, but I think I will be better in a few weeks."
22 year-old Russian Mikhail Ignatiev held the provisional best time until Zabriskie knocked the top-contenders out. The Tinkoff Credit Systems rider rode a 34'49", which event earned him sixth for the day and will signal him out as a danger man in the closing kilometres of Sanremo.