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Triumph over tragedy; Sprinter's Round 1: Victory McEwen

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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto)

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto)
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto)

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto)
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel)

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel)
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Birthday boy Paolo Savoldelli

Birthday boy Paolo Savoldelli
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia)

Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia)
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Davitamon, Milram and Discovery

Davitamon, Milram and Discovery
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel)

Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel)
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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It got pretty busy at sign on in Mons

It got pretty busy at sign on in Mons
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Lampre-Fondital signs on

Lampre-Fondital signs on
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The sign on in Mons was wet

The sign on in Mons was wet
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Birthday boy Paolo Savoldelli looks around for a podium girl…

Birthday boy Paolo Savoldelli looks around for a podium girl…
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Watch where you're putting that euphonium, hear?

Watch where you're putting that euphonium, hear?
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Keeping the crowd entertained at the finish in Charleroi was not easy, as this brass band proved

Keeping the crowd entertained at the finish in Charleroi was not easy, as this brass band proved
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) leads his breakaway companions

Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) leads his breakaway companions
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The peloton en route to Marcinelle

The peloton en route to Marcinelle
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The concentration is evident

The concentration is evident
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The peloton during stage 2

The peloton during stage 2
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Discovery Channel protected Savoldelli

Discovery Channel protected Savoldelli
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) enjoying his day in pink

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) enjoying his day in pink
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel)

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel)
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) behind Jose Luis Rubiera

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) behind Jose Luis Rubiera
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ivan Basso (CSC) with Giovanni Lombardi by his side

Ivan Basso (CSC) with Giovanni Lombardi by his side
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) nestled in the peloton

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) nestled in the peloton
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Davitamon, Milram and Discovery set the tempo

Davitamon, Milram and Discovery set the tempo
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) rides away from his companions

Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) rides away from his companions
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) went solo

Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) went solo
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel) and Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) towards the end

Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel) and Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) towards the end
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel) leads Missaglia

Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel) leads Missaglia
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Jens Voigt (CSC) in the firing line

Jens Voigt (CSC) in the firing line
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) prepares to put his hands up

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) prepares to put his hands up
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) beats Pollack and Bettini to win stage 2

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) beats Pollack and Bettini to win stage 2
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins the stage into Marcinelle

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins the stage into Marcinelle
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins the stage into Marcinelle

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins the stage into Marcinelle
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) celebrates

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) celebrates
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) pulled it off

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) pulled it off
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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McEwen is congratulated by Preben Van Hecke

McEwen is congratulated by Preben Van Hecke
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) on the podium with son Ewan

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) on the podium with son Ewan
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) salutes with his trophies

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) salutes with his trophies
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) grins on the podium

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) grins on the podium
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) has done this before

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) has done this before
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) likes the taste

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) likes the taste
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) lets loose

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) lets loose
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) with a pink grin

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) with a pink grin
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) pulls on the pink jersey

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) pulls on the pink jersey
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) gets another kiss

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) gets another kiss
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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You wouldn't spray us with that bottle, would you?

You wouldn't spray us with that bottle, would you?
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) is the best climber

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) is the best climber
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) was awarded the blue points jersey

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) was awarded the blue points jersey
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The bunch comes along in their rain jackets

The bunch comes along in their rain jackets
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) says bleargh

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) says bleargh
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Bradley McGee (Francaise des Jeux) loves the wet

Bradley McGee (Francaise des Jeux) loves the wet
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel) was one of the four men who animated the stage

Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel) was one of the four men who animated the stage
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Matthew White (Discovery) enjoying the rain

Matthew White (Discovery) enjoying the rain
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Nice church!

Nice church!
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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The peloton rolling along

The peloton rolling along
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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A diversion

A diversion
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Jens Voigt (CSC) keeping an eye on things

Jens Voigt (CSC) keeping an eye on things
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) in a rain jacket

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) in a rain jacket
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Benat Albizuri leads the break

Benat Albizuri leads the break
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Davitamon and Milram controlling it

Davitamon and Milram controlling it
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins in Marcinelle

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins in Marcinelle
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and son Ewan

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and son Ewan
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) with a podium shower

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) with a podium shower
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) on the podium in pink

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) on the podium in pink
(Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Instilling it early

Instilling it early
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Past the Place de L’Eglise in Merbes-le-Château

Past the Place de L’Eglise in Merbes-le-Château
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Here comes the Giro!

Here comes the Giro!
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Ivan Basso (CSC) rides next to Paolo Savoldelli

Ivan Basso (CSC) rides next to Paolo Savoldelli
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) is the champ

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) is the champ
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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McEwen and Ewan on the podium

McEwen and Ewan on the podium
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Today's press centre in Marcinelle was a grave for 262 miners in the disaster of 1956

Today's press centre in Marcinelle was a grave for 262 miners in the disaster of 1956
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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It's all about style in the Giro d'Italia

It's all about style in the Giro d'Italia
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Graeme Brown (Rabobank) just managed a top ten spot

Graeme Brown (Rabobank) just managed a top ten spot
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) was fourth yesterday and came in eleventh today

Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) was fourth yesterday and came in eleventh today
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Christian Moreni (Cofidis) looks like he needs to apologise for a sprinting manoeuvre

Christian Moreni (Cofidis) looks like he needs to apologise for a sprinting manoeuvre
(Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Bradley McGee (Francaise des Jeux) gets wet

Bradley McGee (Francaise des Jeux) gets wet
(Image credit: Giorgio Masnikosa/members.chello.se/giorgio.masnikosa)
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And so does Gilberto Simoni

And so does Gilberto Simoni
(Image credit: Giorgio Masnikosa/members.chello.se/giorgio.masnikosa)
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Italian fans in Belgium

Italian fans in Belgium
(Image credit: Giorgio Masnikosa/members.chello.se/giorgio.masnikosa)
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The train stops Mikael Delage (Francaise des Jeux)

The train stops Mikael Delage (Francaise des Jeux)
(Image credit: Giorgio Masnikosa/members.chello.se/giorgio.masnikosa)
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Le bidon

Le bidon
(Image credit: Giorgio Masnikosa/members.chello.se/giorgio.masnikosa)
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Le peloton

Le peloton
(Image credit: Giorgio Masnikosa/members.chello.se/giorgio.masnikosa)
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It's a long way

It's a long way
(Image credit: Giorgio Masnikosa/members.chello.se/giorgio.masnikosa)
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Popular Frenchman

Popular Frenchman
(Image credit: Giorgio Masnikosa/members.chello.se/giorgio.masnikosa)
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Popular Belgian

Popular Belgian
(Image credit: Giorgio Masnikosa/members.chello.se/giorgio.masnikosa)

On August 8, 1956, Marcinelle was the scene for a tragic mine accident that took the lives of 262 workers. But 50 years on, one could only find triumph in this suburb on the outskirts of Charleroi, as Davitamon-Lotto's pocket-rocket Robbie McEwen won the first round of the battle between the sprinters - and in convincing fashion.

"This win is obviously very important for me because it's in the Giro; it's not just the Giro but the Giro in Belgium, which is very important for our sponsors," said a beaming McEwen. "But it's again more confirmation after Romandie last week that I'm going in the right direction and I seem to be fully recovered from my rib injury I suffered in March."

"Any sprint you win is perfect," he said. "The lead out was perfect - I was able to follow the Milram train for the last five kilometres but I knew there were lots of roundabouts all in a row, so I was able to ride a good position and stay on the wheel of Petacchi.

"It was just in the last 200 metres that it became a bit more complicated. When Alessandro swung around and saw me on his wheel, I think that made him a little uncertain that he wanted to ride a tactical sprint instead of just blasting off like he often does from 200 [metres to go]."

After what looked to be a perfect lead-out by his Milram boys - still four strong at the front with one and a half kilometres remaining - Ale-Jet Petacchi just didn't have the legs to prevent T-Mobile's Olaf Pollack from preempting his own move. McEwen wasted no time in grabbing Pollack's wheel before powering past on the inside, winning by more than a bike length from the fast-finishing German. Third place went to Quick.Step-Innergetic's jumpy cricket Paolo Bettini, while a disappointed Petacchi rolled in for fourth.

"I'm very satisfied," said Pollack. "The finale was pretty hectic. Graeme Browne took risks at a roundabout three kilometres before the finish, which caused three riders to crash. This also opened a gap for me, which I used right away."

Bettini said he proved himself today. "They explained the stage to me and I knew that it was for pure sprinters, but when the road is slightly uphill I always want to mingle. With the third place, I even recovered a little time lost yesterday. Was there a risk? Yes, a little, but that's normal; it was a calm stage, with a well-controlled break, so everybody wanted to be in front in the finale. Plus, it was the first stage so it was normal that there was some tension. I'm sure it won't be as crowded tomorrow, when we climb the citadel of Namur - I'm going to go all out for the stage win."

Said McEwen on Petacchi: "He waited very long and didn't start when Pollack started - so he then had to gain some free space and I could just go through between him and Brown because he went from the front, away to the right and I was able to get through a very small gap and open my sprint for real.

"I think I'm maybe the only rider who can force Alessandro to make small mistakes and try and change his tactics," he mused.

"He also realises I change my tactics in every sprint, but I know that Alessandro is one of the strongest and always hard to beat. Of course, I do fear him and his train when it comes to just the sprint itself, but I focus on my own tactics and look at him like any of the others.

"It's also about experience as a sprinter - this is my eleventh year as a professional, and having always been a sprinter and sprinting in that way, all that experience keeps building; when I'm in a position like I was today, eight times out of ten I can make the right decision. But to be a good decision maker you also have to have good legs."

Petacchi was of course disappointed with fourth place, but resigned himself to the fact. "Sprints are like that - sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. They waited for me in the last metres but I couldn't finish my sprint like I wanted to. I took a risk, I didn't go at 200 metres because the road went uphill and we were at 50 km/h. I had McEwen on my wheel and if I had jumped I would have led him out in the sprint. On top of that, I suffer at low-speed sprints. I thank my teammates who worked so well for me, but unfortunately the ascent of the road did notmake it possible to sprint at the speed I prefer. But my condition is really good. There will be other occasions."

Apart from McEwen igniting the sprinters' bagarre, the stage was relatively uneventful. 23 kilometres after leaving Mons, a breakaway containing Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia), Mickael Delage (Française des Jeux), Beñat Albizuri (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Arnaud Labbe (Bouygues Telecom) set the scene for much of the gloomy day's proceedings. Unsurprisingly, it amounted to exactly nothing 155 kilometres later, other than the four finding themselves back in the peloton 19 kilometres from the finish.

From that point on, no-one was able to break the grip of the sprinters' teams as a showdown on Marcinelle's Avenue Eugène Mascaux became the inevitable conclusion, and with a slight uphill finish, Robbie McEwen the inevitable winner. Heading into tomorrow's third stage from Perwez to Namur, maglia rosa Paolo Savoldelli maintains his eleven second advantage over Francaise des Jeux's Bradley McGee.

How it unfolded

After a spell of super spring weather in Belgium, Sunday dawned wet and cool in the Wallonne region for the second of four stages of the 89th Giro d'Italia. But the wet weather couldn't put a damper on 2005 Giro champion Paolo Savoldelli's 33rd birthday, as the Discovery Channel rider from Bergamo was starting in the maglia rosa he won yesterday. After a bite of birthday cake, Savoldelli and the other 197 riders started out six minutes late from Mons on the long loop to Charleroi-Marcinelle at 12:31.

Key points were the 110 Gazzetta at Morlanwelz after 98.4km and a GPM at Silenrieux after 144 km. After 23km on the outskirts of Mons, four riders managed to escape after an initial flurry of attacks, with Mickael Delage (Française des Jeux), Arnaud Labbe (Bouygues Telecom), Moises Aldape (Panaria) and Illiano (Selle Italia) off the front. But after 1km away, Aldape and Illiano crashed out of the break on the wet roads, but Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia) and Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel-Euskadi) then came across to form another quartet.

The rain eventually tapered after about an hour of racing, but continued on and off. After 55km in Rebecq, Missaglia took a cash prime and after 65km, the quartet had gained a lead of 6'18 outside of the village of Tubize at the day's northernmost point, but Discovery Channel moved to the front to ride a steady tempo along with some Davitamon riders. in In 60th place at 43 seconds at the start of the day, Missaglia became the virtual maglia rosa.

After 81km, Albizuri took another cash prime in Ardennes with the gruppo cruising 6'00 behind, with the first 84km covered at an average of just over 39 km/h. Just outside this tiny Walloon village, the break was stopped by a train passing at a level crossing and lost about 1'30 to the chasing gruppo. With 88km to go in Ressaix, the gap was 4'35 and at the "110 Gazzetta" intermediate sprint, Delage bested Albiziru and Missaglia.

After the sprint, the percorso headed southwest along the French border to the feed zone in Merbes-le-Chateaux with 80km left to race; rain showers had picked up again, with the break still working well together and keeping a lead of four and a half minutes on the peloton.

After three hours of racing, the average speed was 39,8 Km/h and the leaders gap was just 3' with 60km to go as Discovery Channel had now left the moderate chase pace to the sprinters teams Milram and Davitamon. At the GPM at Silenrieux after 144km with 52km left to race, big Arnie Labbe took the points atop the gentle rise and would don the maglia verde of best climber after the stage.

The rain had stopped again and gruppo was still riding at a moderate pace, passing the GPM 2'32 ahead of Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel) who had jumped away looking for KOM points that weren't there. The two groups traversed the wide open farmlands in the deep south of Belgium, soon to make the turn back north towards Charleroi.

With 40km to race, Delage took what he thought was a sprint prime but was actually the 40 km to go banner, and the pace was still moderate, with 39.3km covered after four hours. The break had 2'00 left from their original advantage while Davitamon and Milram had upped the chase pace again. In Florennes with 35km to go, the gap had tumbled to 1'25 as the Milram and Davitamon-led chasers had the bit between their teeth as they quickly pulled back the break. As the leaders gap fell below 2'00, the team cars were pulled from the break and Delage, Labbe and Albizu sat up, while Missaglia kept on going by himself, passing solo under the 30km to go banner with a lead of 1'37. But Missaglia was joined by Albizu, who had second thoughts and the duo kept riding hard up front.

Through Mettet with 26km to go, the front duo was still 1'15 out front as they headed northwest towards Charleroi, but Milram had hit the front and was cranking it up to begin the set-up for Petacchi's sprint. Davitamon was up there too, not wanting to have their fast man McEwen left out of the party. But the break didn't make it back to the Province of Hainaut from where they had started four hours previously, as they were finally brought to heel with 17km to race after 140km of liberty.

Now it was gruppo compatto on the way home with Milram and Davitamon leading the way on the rolling roads into the southern suburbs of Charleroi towards the finish. All the top teams were now struggling for elbow room at the front of the peloton. Big Chris Knees of Milram was humping away at the front as the gruppo crossed the Sambre River with less than 10km to go and luckily the rain had stopped, as there were many twists and turns on the city streets. No team was taking control in the delicate phase of the race between 10km and 5km to go, so there were constant changes up front.

With 4km to go, the gruppo was led by Milram and Petacchi, with Davitamon and Robbie McEwen, Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step) and Olaf Pollack (T-Mobile Team) tagging along. As they slalomed through the roundabouts and tight curves of Charleroi, Michael Rasmussen had to make a major effort to get back from a puncture with 6km to go, but ended up losing three minutes by the day's end.

As the gruppo hit the last 1500 metres, the road was a long gradual uphill drag to the finish line. Milram's Rigotto was second to last man for Petacchi, then Ongarato. In the last 300 metres, Milram's penultimate man Ongarato seemed to slow and with 200 to go, both Pollack and Bettini sensed that Petacchi's lead-out was slow and tried to jump Petacchi.

When Ale-Jet finally went with 170 metres remaining, his afterburners didn't light and Robbie McEwen came off Petacchi's wheel, making his trademark move to take the victory and a 20 second time bonus. No change in the classifica generale, with Discovery Channel's birthday boy Paolo Savoldelli still in the maglia rosa of Giro d'Italia race leadership.

Monday, May 8 - Stage 3: Perwez-Namur, 202km

Stage 3 to Namur has that Classics feeling, with the Cotes d'Ahin from Fleche Wallonne on the program with 50km to go and to wrap things up, a tough cobbled climb from the Meuse River up the last 2km up to Namur's famous Fortress make Stage 3 decidedly not for the sprinters. Look out for Olympic champ Bettini to hit out on this challenging uphill finish.

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