Stage winner Tomas Vaitkus (AG2R) was a very happy man after the ninth stage of the Giro d'Italia, and not just because he'd just won his first stage of a grand tour. "I'm overjoyed. This victory in the Giro means a lot to me. I can't believe it," said Vaitkus, "This is a special victory for me because I'm the first Lithuanian to ever win a stage at the Giro."
Vaitkus has been waiting for his chance in the flatter finishes of this Giro, and has been among the contenders several times, finishing third in stage 6, eighth in stage 4, and sixth in stage 2.
"I've been close in all the other Giro sprints but never managed to win and when I saw Bettini put his arms up I thought I'd lost again," he said. "Fortunately the photo finish proved I'd got it."
The man Vaitkus turned out to have beaten, Paolo Bettini, was not happy about the finish. He accused Vaitkus of moving into the barriers during the sprint. Vaitkus admitted he'd drifted but said it had not been deliberate, and he was not penalized by the commissaries.
"I saw Bettini go on my left and when I jumped I moved a bit to my left. That was because I was sprinting at 100 percent. It was a natural movement and definitely not intended to damage Bettini's sprint," Vaitkus said.
While Vaitkus undoubtedly deserved a long sought-after win, he also benefited from the fatigue of Davitamon-Lotto sprinter Robbie McEwen, who had suffered on the climbs earlier in the day and was fourth across the line. "The climbs cooked me a bit and I just didn't have the legs to go in a long sprint like that," said McEwen after the race. "I was able to get back on after the climbs but I didn't have much left and I struggled all the way to the line."
Looking further than the day's combat, the race leader, CSC's Ivan Basso, hinted that he shouldn't be ruled out of contention in this Giro. Basso has been conspicuously absent from many pundits' lists of Giro favourites, probably because he is expected to keep enough in reserve that he can aim to improve on last year's second place in the Tour de France.
"The Giro is wide open," said Basso. "There are two weeks to go and the tough mountain stages still to come."
Basso's directeur sportif Alain Gallopin said CSC had not really worked to defend Basso's pink leader jersey today. "We left if to the other teams to control the stage and we got through it quite easy," said gallopin. " It was a short hectic stage, but without any serious attacks. The stage tomorrow is a lot more demanding and there will probably be a couple of attempts for us to control. Other than that the next thing for us to focus on is the time trial on Thursday, where we naturally have big ambitions.”
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