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Ale-Jet flies to fourth victory

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Milram's Alessandro Petacchi

Milram's Alessandro Petacchi (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Maximiliano Richeze

Maximiliano Richeze (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Danilo Di Luca

Danilo Di Luca (Image credit: Sirotti)
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The sprint in Riese Pio X was won by Alessandro Petacchi

The sprint in Riese Pio X was won by Alessandro Petacchi (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The crowds cheer as Petacchi takes the win

The crowds cheer as Petacchi takes the win (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Petacchi in magenta takes another stage of this Giro d'Italia

Petacchi in magenta takes another stage of this Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The win feels good for Petacchi

The win feels good for Petacchi (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A champagne explosion

A champagne explosion (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Petacchi dons another ciclamino jersey

Petacchi dons another ciclamino jersey (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Kisses for Ale-Jet

Kisses for Ale-Jet (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The sprint finish was greatly reduced in size by wrecks in the last kilometre

The sprint finish was greatly reduced in size by wrecks in the last kilometre (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A small bunch sprint due to crashes, and Petacchi wins

A small bunch sprint due to crashes, and Petacchi wins (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Maximiliano Richeze is unhappy with second place

Maximiliano Richeze is unhappy with second place (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Milram's Alessandro Petacchi brings home another Giro stage win

Milram's Alessandro Petacchi brings home another Giro stage win (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tired, but happy Petacchi salutes from the podium

Tired, but happy Petacchi salutes from the podium (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Sprays of champagne and smiles for Petacchi

Sprays of champagne and smiles for Petacchi (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A good day for tanning on a fast, hot stage 18

A good day for tanning on a fast, hot stage 18 (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Simoni keeps an eye on Di Luca during the flat, fast stage to Pio X

Simoni keeps an eye on Di Luca during the flat, fast stage to Pio X (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Leonardo Piepoli is the king of the mountains

Leonardo Piepoli is the king of the mountains (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Danilo Di Luca is getting familiar with the maglia rosa routine

Danilo Di Luca is getting familiar with the maglia rosa routine (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Flowers for Danilo after the stage 18 finish

Flowers for Danilo after the stage 18 finish (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Di Luca cracks the champagne on another day in pink

Di Luca cracks the champagne on another day in pink (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Contratulations from the team for Milram's Petacchi

Contratulations from the team for Milram's Petacchi (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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On the podium Alessandro Petacchi salutes the crowd

On the podium Alessandro Petacchi salutes the crowd (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The cilamino jersey of Petacchi is nestled into the leadout train

The cilamino jersey of Petacchi is nestled into the leadout train (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Bettini looks not too thrilled about the stage 18 finish

Paolo Bettini looks not too thrilled about the stage 18 finish (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Home safe Danilo Di Luca avoided the crashes

Home safe Danilo Di Luca avoided the crashes (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The maglia rosa and maglia bianca come in after avoiding the wrecks

The maglia rosa and maglia bianca come in after avoiding the wrecks (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Danilo Di Luca spends another day in pink

Danilo Di Luca spends another day in pink (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Petacchi brings it home ahead of a split bunch after crashes in the last kilometer

Petacchi brings it home ahead of a split bunch after crashes in the last kilometer (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Alessandro Petacchi leads home the bunch on stage 18

Alessandro Petacchi leads home the bunch on stage 18 (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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A smiling Ale-Jet receives kisses from podium girls

A smiling Ale-Jet receives kisses from podium girls (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Di Luca on the podium his cheeks must be getting sore from all the kisses they've received

Di Luca on the podium his cheeks must be getting sore from all the kisses they've received (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Getting to be an expert with champagne Danilo Di Luca cracks open another bottle of bubbly

Getting to be an expert with champagne Danilo Di Luca cracks open another bottle of bubbly (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Nice projection

Nice projection (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Addy Engels (Quickstep leads the doomed breakaway

Addy Engels (Quickstep leads the doomed breakaway (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Engels and Eric Berthou (Caisse d'Epargne) in the break

Engels and Eric Berthou (Caisse d'Epargne) in the break (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Di Luca rides into Pio X in pink

Di Luca rides into Pio X in pink (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Petacchi is interviewed post-race

Petacchi is interviewed post-race (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Petacchi had to work hard to win stage 18, and was exhausted afterward

Petacchi had to work hard to win stage 18, and was exhausted afterward (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Andy Schleck (CSC) gets the white jersey of best young rider

Andy Schleck (CSC) gets the white jersey of best young rider (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Andy Schleck is having a break-out performance at the Giro

Andy Schleck is having a break-out performance at the Giro (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Schleck waves to the crowd from the best young rider podium

Schleck waves to the crowd from the best young rider podium (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Kisses for Leonardo Piepoli the king of the mountains

Kisses for Leonardo Piepoli the king of the mountains (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Piepoli dons the maglia verde

Piepoli dons the maglia verde (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Pippo Pozzato shares a joke with maglia rosa Di Luca

Pippo Pozzato shares a joke with maglia rosa Di Luca (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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The group heads into Riese Pio-X

The group heads into Riese Pio-X (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Dario Cioni scopes out the local paper

Dario Cioni scopes out the local paper (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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The Milram led train steams into Pio-X

The Milram led train steams into Pio-X (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Maglia cilamino Alessandro Petacchi sits behind his train

Maglia cilamino Alessandro Petacchi sits behind his train (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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World Champ Paolo Bettini in the bunch

World Champ Paolo Bettini in the bunch (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Maglia rosa Danilo Di Luca looking comfortable in the finale

Maglia rosa Danilo Di Luca looking comfortable in the finale (Image credit: Luc Claessen)
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Kurt Asle-Arvesen's seat shouldn't look like this for some reason

Kurt Asle-Arvesen's seat shouldn't look like this for some reason (Image credit: Jean-François Quénet)

Petacchi goes solo - Di Luca stays pretty in pink

A crash in the final 800 metres of today's stage of the Giro d'Italia to Riese Pio X meant that Alessandro Petacchi was left solo for the sprint finale. The Milram fast-man held off Maximiliano Richeze (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) over the closing metres to win his fourth stage this year and the 23rd in his career; Matti Breschel (Team CSC) finished in third. The general classification battle stayed status quo with Maglia Rosa Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) waiting for Saturday's big appointment, a 43-kilometre time trial to Verona.

"It was a long sprint," said an out of breath Petacchi, sitting on the ground after conquering Thursday's finale. "I was able to move up but it was hard. Another crash. I did not understand."

French squad Ag2r Prévoyance moved to the front to start the final kilometre for its leader Alexandre Usov. The boys took the left-hander onto Via Sarto from the inside and they proved to be moving too fast; Usov crashed when trying to avoid his lead-out man who slid into the barriers. The crash also involved Luca Mazzanti (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) and Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre-Fondital).

Hometown rider Matteo Tosatto (Quickstep-Innergetic), who had been sitting third wheel before the incident, was now out in front with Petacchi, Julian Dean (Crédit Agricole) and Richeze chasing, followed by three Gerolsteiners supporting local rider Oscar Gatto. Petacchi closed on Tosatto through the right-hander at 500 metres to go to begin the finale on Via Montegrappa with Richeze on his wheel. He pressed hard and held off the Argentinean and a fast-charging Matti Breschel.

"Everyone was at their limit. I was on the wheel of Lorenzetto and Lancaster up to the last curve [800m to go]. I saw AG2r going fast... there was the crash. Tosatto was off the front, but I knew I had to go from that point. I saw I had a good advantage with only Richeze for company."

Petacchi commented on the aggressiveness of his rivals. "Those riders thought they could handle it in the curve but it was a disaster," he said. "I hope Lancaster was ok [he stayed upright - ed.]. We don't have many men left so it is hard for us to control the final."

33 year-old Tosatto lives only 300 metres from the finish and he had been given the freedom from his team to vie for the win, even having the support of teammate and World Champion Paolo Bettini. Unfortunately, Tosatto did not have ideal position to take victory in front of his friends and family. "The two AG2r riders anticipated the curve and unfortunately I was left out too early," he commented post-stage. "It was too bad I was not able to win in my hometown but I will try again in the coming stages."

The young, 22 year-old Gatto also lives near the finish but could not shine. With Robert Förster out of the race, he had the Gerolsteiner team at his disposal but he was unable to benefit from his three-man Gerolsteiner lead-out. "It was hard, hard today," he noted. He will wait until the last day, Sunday, to try again. "I will to be a protagonist again in Milano."

All of the GC men arrived to Riese Pio X safely, and they will now be focusing their energies on surviving tomorrows 179-kilometres to Terme di Comano and riding Saturday's time trial.

"I never thought I would be here, at this point in the Giro with an advantage like this," said maglia rosa wearer Di Luca, obliviously happy with his 2'24" lead over Andy Schleck (Team CSC). "The race is not over, and I have to watch out for Schleck."

He is prepared for Saturday's run. "I have done the complete 43 kilometres in training, and I know the parcours."

Schleck issued a warning to Di Luca. "I feel very, very good and recuperated. It is true that he has a gap but I go faster in the time trial, so watch out," Schleck half-jokingly said towards Di Luca. "I am used to these types of 'threats' and I will be ready," responded Di Luca.

How it unfolded

The riders rolled out from Udine, just south of yesterday's mountaintop finish on Monte Zoncolan, at 12:23. All 142 riders that finished yesterday were present to start today on a dead-flat run from Udine to Riese Pio X. It is a westerly parcours skirting north of Treviso, home of Pinarello bicycles, and finishing just north of Castelfranco Veneto, home of Ronde van Vlaanderen Champion Alessandro Ballan, with two finishing circuits of 16.5 kilometres.

The altimeters would never jump above 90 metres today for the 203-kilometre push to Riese Pio X, a far cry in elevation from the 1730-metre heights of yesterday's finish on Monte Zoncolan.

The sprinters, Koldo Fernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Alexandre Usov (Ag2r Prévoyance), Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), Maximiliano Richeze (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare), Nikolai Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems), and local-yokel Matteo Tosatto (Quickstep-Innergetic), were ready to spread their wings with only one of two stages left for sprint finishes.

In the first 17.5 southerly kilometres, it was attack after attack. Chicken-man Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) opened up affairs with an attack in the first kilometre. Laszlo Bodrogi (Crédit Agricole) was hungry and countered the Dane, but by kilometre six, just short of S. Stefano Udinese, they were tacked back to the Gruppo Maglia Rosa of Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas).

To make up for a lack of Tinkoff representation in yesterday's mountainous romp, Pavel Brutt pulled the throttle back like he was Valentino Rossi on a MotoGP course. The long-haired Russian resisted, from kilometre seven, for a few minutes but was not allowed his space. However, Brutt's brutish efforts made way for an attack by teammate Elio Aggiano and Josep Jufré (Predictor-Lotto) at kilometre 10.

French Bouygues Telecom nailed the two men back after four kilometres but it could not stop the counter-manoeuvre by Leonardo Scarselli (Quickstep-Innergetic), Marco Marzano (Lampre-Fondital), Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank) and YAT (Yet another Tinkoffer) Ricardo Serrano. The four held a 10" advantage for a couple of kilometres but then were nailed back at kilometre 20.

This capture set off a new round of artilleries. Giuseppe Palumbo (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) fired at kilometres 25 and then by Bouygues Telecom's Nicolas Crosbie at kilometre 30. Charles Wegelius (Liquigas) even had a slight moment of freedom, however, both he and Crosbie were captured before seven riders blasted away at kilometre 37.

The men, Addy Engels (Quickstep-Innergetic), Maxim Gourov (Astana), Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital), Franck Renier (Bouygues Telecom), Eric Berthou (Caisse d'Epargne), Pedro Horrillo (Rabobank) and Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems), built a gap of 20" in one kilometre and 1'18" by kilometre 46.

The fuga del giorno appeared to be bidding its time off the Gruppo Maglia Rosa. The sprinters' teams were full of angst after yesterday mountain romp and did not take "escape" for an answer. Lead-out men, like Aussie Lancaster and Irishman Roche, wanted to work like mad to ensure their captains were ready for the kill on the two 16.5-kilometre clock-wise circuits that ended the stage.

The magic seven had 2'00" over the Milram-controlled peloton by kilometre 52. This gap jumped up to the day's maximum of 2'30" by S. Vito Tagliamento, just after Wegelius pulled out of the Corsa Rosa. Wegelius' departure broke the Liquigas green machine down to eight men and meant that the race no longer had a squadra with a full complement of soldiers.

The riders went under the 40 kilometre banner with 1'36" in hand. Milram, for Alessandro Petacchi, and Euskaltel, for Koldo Fernández, were on the front of the peloton and they had it completely lined out. The seven's harmony on the tree-lined road near Ballan's home town of Castelfranco Veneto went south. The boys had far-away looks in their eyes and this was confirmed by a jab from Eric Berthou (Caisse d'Epargne). The Frenchman's move was followed by an attack from Kazakh Gourov 1,500 metres before the start of the final two circuits.

Eric Berthou (Caisse d'Epargne) chased and joined with Franck Renier (Bouygues Telecom). Addy Engels (Quickstep-Innergetic) had the legs and closed the gap right on the line, 33 kilometres to go, which made four; Engels, Gourov, Renier and Berthou, with Misha Ignatiev, Horrillo and Vila were chasing. Frenchman Franck Renier dedicated himself to the move with compatriot Berthou, Dutchman Engels and Kazakh Renier. The Renier hammered passed signs for sprinter Oscar Gatto and that was a bad omen.

The four hung on, keeping about 53", as their old partners were caught at kilometre 176 after enjoying 139 kilometres of freedom. Berthou led the four to the line marking the ultimo giro. They passed under the ringing bell and at 36", the Gruppo Maglia Rosa passed under the control of Milram, Euskaltel and Crédit Agricole at 16.5 kilometres to go.

The gap of 36" dropped quickly and at five kilometres remaining, they were caught. The four had 161 kilometres of freedom but it was not time to turn the race over to the sprinters. Crédit Agricole put big Laszlo Bodrogi on the front for Angelo Furlan but he was washed away by four Tinkoff men working for Nikolai Trusov.

The Russian-Italian squad of Oleg Tinkov held its position before a solo missile was fired by Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), which did not get far, and the subsequent surge of AG2r. The white-yellow-blue boys took control under the one kilometre to go kite, but then they lost it and caused chaos when they took the left-hander at 800 metres too fast.

Alessandro Petacchi proved he could handle 800 metres alone by holding off Tosatto and then Richeze, Breschel and Dean.

Stage 19 - Friday, June 1: Treviso - Comano Terme, 179 km

June opens at the Giro d'Italia with a transition stage from Treviso, the hometown of Cicli Pinarello that heads due west on the flats, then up and over the Pasubio valley and the Pian delle Fugazze climb over to the Adige River Valley, then over the Passo Ballino north of Lago di Garda to finish at the thermal resort of Comano Terme.

With the crucial time trial the next day, opportunistic riders who still have something in their legs will go on the attack in search of a Giro stage win.

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