Brutto sprint in Frosinone

Maglia Rosa Bettini DQ'ed from stage, Cooke hits the deck

To Italians, the desire to put on a good image, a "bella figura", is fundamental, as is the desire to avoid a "brutto figura" (bad image) at all costs. Today, despite the bella figura of his pink tunic of Giro race leadership today, Paolo Bettini made a "brutto figura". As Bettini was sprinting for the stage win in Frosinone on Stage 4, with 100m to go, a fast closing Baden Cooke (Francaise des Jeux) tried to pass Bettini on the left into a small gap, but the Quick.Step rider closed the door on Cooke and the Australian appeared to touch Bettini's wheel, lose his balance and then crashed spectacularly into the barriers.

After reviewing the TV replay, the Jury of Commissaires decided to disqualify Bettini from the win and relegate him to last place in the front group, 4th place, but he was given the same time as stage winner Luca Mazzanti (Ceramiche Panaria-Navagare). Once he heard the Jury's decision, Bettini went on the Giro post-race show to watch the replay and exclaimed, "I started my sprint, it was a long sprint and I was riding my line. I moved to the center of the road, then moved left towards the barriers to cover my position. I looked around twice to see if anyone was coming around. I checked again (at 150m) and shifted to my highest gear. That's where my chain slipped...if (Cooke's crash) is my fault, with the rest of the road wide open, I should just leave the Giro now and go home. Grazie e arrivederci."

Covered in road dust and dried sweat, an astonished Cooke told RAI-TV post stage, "It's pretty clear what happened...I was feeling good today and was going for the win. I didn't want to pass out in the wind...I want to see (the replay) on TV; I think everybody who sees it can figure out what happened."

Cooke was a bit more colourful in his comments to Cyclingnews: "F***! I f**king got over the hill no worries. None of the sprinters were left, I got on Bettini's wheel, he hit out early, I gave him a length, and I was f***ing absolutely cruising. Dropped it down the gears, ran at him, just about to blow his helmet off as I went past him...and he's just turned left and put me in the barrier. I had it won, I was just about to throw my hands in the air. Instead I did five somersaults down the road!"

Although Cooke looked like he might get past Bettini in the last 100m, RAI-TV commentator and 1996 Olympic Points Champion Silvio Martinello disagreed, explaining after the stage that "the rules are clear; a rider can't change their line in the last 200m, but Cooke made a mistake to try and pass on the inside." Francesco Moser agreed with Martinello, saying that "according to rules, what Bettini did is not correct, but it was not that bad...he didn't do it on purpose. The same thing happened to Bettini (at the finish of Stage 3) and nobody was disqualified."

Although Bettini tried to talk to Cooke after the stage, the Australian was having nothing to do with the Italian and refused to shake his hand after the stage. As the soap opera continued, the monumentally pissed-off Bettini made the Giro organizers wait almost a half-hour until he showed up for the Maglia Rosa ceremony. When he finally calmed down enough to get the Maglia Rosa, Bettini showed his anger by turning the champagne bottle upside down on the podium.

Lost in the post-stage mix in Frosinone was eventual stage winner Luca Mazzanti, who was the second rider over the finish line in Frosinine and is now third on GC. It was Mazzanti's third win of the 2005 season and his first career Giro stage win, albeit a bittersweet one. "Well, it's like half a win because Paolo is a friend of mine. I saw the crash, but I was riding all out with my head down, so I really don't know exactly what happened... but something must have happened if the judges disqualified (Bettini)."

Just behind Mazzanti in second was Maglia Verde clad Dario Cioni (Liquigas-Bianchi). The likeable Anglo-Italian, a former mountain biker, grabbed a 0'12 time bonus and is now sitting 4th overall in the 2005 Giro. Despite having a mechanical in the last 3 km, Serguei Gonchar (Domina Vacanze) made a bike change and got back to the front group, while GC favourites who lost 0'43 today on the tricky finish in Frosinone were Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team), Juan Manuel Garate (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears), and Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel), who lost 0'51.

How it unfolded

It was sunny and warm as Stage 4 of the 88th Giro d'Italia started with 193 riders. Due to a re-measurement of the stage, the length was increased to 220km. This morning, five teams had health controls by the UCI and no rider was found inapt to ride. The stage began in the small Salernitano town of Giffoni Valle Piana in the hinterlands east of Napoli at 12:03, and after less than a kilometre, Saunier Duval-Prodir sent Cobo on the attack. There was action from the get-go today, with SDV and Selle Italia particularly active. On the first descent of the day near Nocera Inferiore overlooking the Gulf of Salerno, Vasseur (Cofidis) attacked and was joined by Pinotti (Saunier Duval-Prodir). After 30 minutes, the average speed was almost 48km/h, but the group sat up and the two escapees began to gain time on the gruppo.

Near Sarno after 34km, Krauss (Gerolsteiner) attacked to bridge across to the break, which was 1'30 up the road. After one hour of racing. the average speed was still high at 48 km/h, and Vasseur and Pinotti had 1'25 on Krauss, with the peloton at 5'00. 25km later in San Clemente, Krauss was starting to lose time sandwiched between the two strong riders out front and the gruppo, which was starting to up the pace before the Intergiro in Caserta. As the weather improved and the bright sunshine returned, Pinotti took the Intergiro in Caserta after 71km and once Krauss took the third place bonus 2'45 behind, he slowed his tempo and was absorbed by the 190 strong gruppo after 94km near Vitulazio, but had kept his lead in the Intergiro classification. The gruppo had lost one rider, Nicolas Inaudi (Cofidis) who crashed on the streets of Caserta after 76km and abandoned.

Vasseur and Pinotti continued to pound away up front, but the sprinters teams had upped the tempo behind and at the feed zone in Calvi Vecchia after 107km, the duo were 3'30 up the road. As the gruppo hit the feed zone for lunch, the lead of the two frontrunners went back up to 5'45. After three hours, the pace had calmed down with the average speed now at 42.6km/h with 80km to go. After 144km, a crash put ten riders on the deck, with DiLuca (Liquigas), Gonchar (Domina Vacanze), Peron (CSC), Dekker (Rabobank), Cooke (FDJ), Zubeldia and Nick Gates (Davitamon-Lotto) among them. Gates climbed out of a ditch. No one was seriously hurt and after a 5km chase, everyone got back to the gruppo.

Quick.Step had been riding tempo on the front with 70km to go as the gap to the break was still 5'00 up the road, but as the gruppo entered the region of Lazio near Cassino, Fassa Bortolo sent Gustov to the front to up the pace. As the leaders passed under the Abbey of Monte Cassino, site of terrible fighting between American and German troops 61 years ago, Vasseur and Pinotti were still working well together, but the lead had dropped to 4'15 as the pace behind was increasing.

With 50km to go in Villa S.Lucia, the break had lost more time to 3'15 and as Frosinone approached, the cloud cover increased as the temps stayed in the upper 20's. Vasseur and Pinotti had been away for 150km and after 4 hours, the average speed remained just over 42km/h. As the gruppo came within 1'00 of the break, Vasseur and Pinotti's team cars pulled over and the break riders slowed and started stoking up on food. Vasseur and Pinotti knew after being away all day that it would be tough to hang on at the end when the sprinters teams cranked up at the end.

At 30km from Frosinone, Davitamon-Lotto hit the front, with the break just 0'20 up the road. Finally the dynamic duo were caught after 164km of liberty, but there was no gruppo compatto as Trent "Willo" Wilson (Selle Italia) attacked solo off the front. The lanky Aussie timed his move well, but the Fassa Bortolo train was replaced by two other Aussies, Matty White (Cofidis) and Gates trying to bring Willo to heel. Wilson came back after three kilometres and Francaise des Jeux then hit the front with 25km to go to set up the sprint for Baden Cooke.

With 20km, Phonak leader Valjavec punctured and five Phonak riders came back to pace him back. Just as the Phonaks made it to the back of the gruppo with 15km to go, there was a crash in the middle of the gruppo that brought down Lorenzetto (Domina Vacanze), Schleck, Zabriskie (CSC), Schnider (Phonak) and Grillo (Panaria), which split off 40 riders who were 15 behind the front gruppo with 10km to go. Calcagni (Liquigas) abandoned with a possible broken collarbone. In the second group were names like Valjavec, Karpets, Kolobnev, Pozzovivo but it was very hard to get across to the front of the race on the up and down roads of the run-in to Frosinone.

Fassa had disappeared, while Davitamon-Lotto tried to keep control with 4km to go. Aitor Gonzalez (Euskaltel) made his move on a climb and got a gap as Bettini and Sella closed him down. With 3km to go, the finale entered Frosinone Alto with a short, sharp 400m climb perfect for an attack, then a 2km twisting, technical descent with seven turns that ended 700m from the finish. Maglia Verde Cioni (Liquigas) hit the front, but just behind him was Celestino. The Domina rider is one of the best descenders in the peloton and his big move down the descent into the center of Frosinone allowed six riders to get a gap on the rest of the gruppo. Maglia Rosa Bettini was there, along with Cioni, Celestino, Mazzanti (Ceramiche Panaria-Navagare), Scarponi (Liberty Seguros) and Cooke (FDJ).

Although Celestino tried desperately to get away, once the front sextet was on the flat final 700m, Bettini tried to go long, but Cooke came up to him in the last 150m. But the talented Australian learned two lessons the hard way today: one, don't try and pass the Maglia Rosa on the inside for a stage win at the Giro d'Italia, especially a guy like Paolo Bettini. Two, in Italy it's not about the rules, but how the rules are interpreted and enforced.

Stage 5 - May 12: Celano-L'Aquila, 223km

This is a difficult, nervous stage in the heart of Abruzzo designed by former pro and local Vito Taccone. After a flat start, Stage 5 climbs into the Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo with two KOM's within 60km. Then there's a long 30km descent that leads to the toughest GPM of the day, Goriano Sicoli, a steep 4km ramp with some sections up to 16%. From there, it's a rolling romp to the finish in L'Aquila 36km later, with the last 1300m uphill to the tough finish. Look for Maglia Rosa Bettini, ProTour leader DiLuca and defending Giro champ Cunego to fight it out in the difficult finale.

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