Cancellara's GC lead proves untouchable
Spaniard Oscar Freire took his second season win on Tirreno-Adriatico's power climb to Castelfidardo, nipping past Italian Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) and Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes). The Liquigas and LPR teams had worked hard to position their leaders for the finale up the four-kilometre climb, but it was the 32 year-old three-time World Champion who ruled the hilltop town of accordion builders.
Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld) made a bid for the stage win and Fabian Cancellara's overall lead mid-way up the climb, but the CSC rider matched the Italian pedal for pedal stroke to stuff the move. Cancellara, with a 16-second lead over Gasparotto, looks likely to keep the race lead when the 43rd Tirreno-Adriatico concludes tomorrow with a sprinters' stage in San Benedetto del Tronto.
The race was formed by an early escape, but it was closed down by the fifth and last climb up Castelfidardo. Freire managed the climb's 4.5-percent gradient and an attack by Gasparotto to take the sprint from an elite group. "If you win here it means you are going strong," Freire said, referring to Saturday's Milano-Sanremo, where he has won twice.
"I think that the new finale won't change the race much. This year, the race will be changed by the riders, there are a lot of on-form, attacking riders. I think that it will be diverse for us [sprinters] at Sanremo. I also think that Cancellara can do it all, even win in the sprint."
It was 'Spartacus' Cancellara who rose to the occasion 24 hours after his time trial win to take the leader's maglia azzurra. After matching the attack from Gasparotto, he upped the pace before sitting in on the sprint finale.
"The team worked completely for me to defend the jersey," said the 26 year-old Swiss. "Gasparotto did what he could to win, and I stuck with him. Freire showed he is going strong. After tomorrow, I will know more about Sanremo. Given today, I know that I can handle some attacks, like the one of Gasparotto. Overall, it is important to take this jersey home."
Pozzato kept his cards close to his chest while Gasparotto and Cancellara's candles flickered out. He followed on Di Luca's move through the last right hand curve; 'Pippo' was powerful, but not enough to hold off Freire who made the finale. 'Pippo' passed the Tirreno test and looks good to try for a repeat win in Sanremo. "I am going strong but so is everyone else," he confessed. "Petacchi is going, Gasparotto is going, Cancellara is going, Freire is going... Freire is one of the most astute sprinters in the finale. We will see in Sanremo."
Di Luca gained confidence from his week in Tirreno. "I tried, but unfortunately I got third place," 'The Killer' noted. "However, I am content. Maybe I started it too far out and, justifiably so, I was passed by Pozzato and then Freire." The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) permitting, he can use his form to take on the Ardennes Classics in April. "It is a good test for Belgium. I am already at eighty percent here in Tirreno, and to have a second and third place is not bad."
"As they say 'It is better to try, than not to try,'" Gasparotto confirmed of his move to dislodge Cancellara from the race lead. "I tried to win Tirreno, and not the stage, but Fabian was stronger than I. There was no question of cooperation because I would have taken ten seconds for the stage win. For Fabian, it was better that the group caught us."
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) made the final winning move of 31 riders and has likely earned an air ticket to Belgium. "The finale was very hard. We had the standard break, but when you have do this thing [Castelfidardo - ed.] five times you know how it is going to be at the end," confirmed the 27 year-old. "I have been going hard since the beginning of February, so to make it through Tirreno was definitely an objective. I proved I can ride in the front with these guys. I will have some rest and have a crack at the Ardennes."
How it unfolded
163 riders departed at 11:05 this morning from the Adriatico seaside town of Civitanova Marche under sunny and windy conditions. The peloton stretched out immediately under attacks and counterattacks.
Gerald Ciolek (High Road) and Igor Astarloa (Team Milram) were involved in a small crash, but were able to rejoin the others before the first successful break went. Renaud Dion (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Paolo Longo Borghini (Barloworld), Pablo Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne), Tristan Valentin (Cofidis), Luis Felipe Laverde (CSF Group Navigare), Alessandro Bertolini (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Paolo Fornaciari (Lampre), Mauro Da Dalto (Liquigas), Theo Eltink (Rabobank), Maarten Tjallingii (Silence-Lotto), William Frischkorn (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) and Vasil Kiryienka (Tinkoff Credit Systems) flew free at kilometre 25.
The group's advantage shot up to two minutes by kilometre 32, and it hit five minutes by kilometre 62. This was the move of the day and one that would eventually need to be controlled by the teams of the favourites if they were to have a chance. A minor fall by Dion at kilometre 76 signalled the fall of the time gap. The Frenchman rejoined the escape, which had a maximum advantage of 6'22" at kilometre 118, but the work of CSC and then LPR and Liquigas brought the move closer to an end as Castelfidardo peaked on the horizon.
The first rise into the hilltop town gave the riders a taste of what they were in for in the closing four circuits. Bertolini opened the attacks on the third rise of Castelfidardo. Tjallingii also gave it a go in the following circuit, but it was Pablo Lastras' move in the final circuit that presented the last chance for the escapees. Kiryienka and Bertolini joined the Spaniard with three kilometres remaining, but the gruppo was tightening the screws.
Luis Felipe Laverde (CSF Group Navigare) chased behind the trio at 10 seconds. He was caught by the Liquigas and LPR led gruppo, where Daniele Pietropolli and Paolo Savoldelli pushed the rhythm for 'The Killer.' Gasparotto fired his missile at 1300 metres remaining. The Italian, clad in the maglia ciclamino of points leader, was solo before Cancellara closed the door to protect his GC lead. Di Luca led through the last curve and 'Pippo' Pozzato was able to come around, but on the back of the two Italians was Oscar the Cat. The Spaniard used the last 25 metres to take victory and put his name at the top of the list of Sanremo favourites.