Petacchi reigns sprint king - Di Luca secures Giro win

Ale-jet untouchable on Corso Venezia

Alessandro Petacchi proved untouchable in this year's Giro d'Italia sprint finishes and closed on a high-note by winning his fifth stage of this year's event. The Italian's acceleration down Milano's Corso Venezia left Maximiliano Richeze (Panaria) and Paolo Bettini (Quickstep) longing for more as they finished in second and third. Di Luca closed out the Corsa Rosa as champion in style thanks to an arm-chair ride to the finish line by his Liquigas squadra.

"I was the strongest, I rode a great Giro," noted the Milram sprinter after the stage. He had recorded his 24th career Giro stage, putting him on par with Giuseppe Saronni.

Milram did not move to the fore of stage 21 until the final kilometres, but when they did take over the reins from Liquigas it was a full bore push to the line for an Alessandro Petacchi victory. The 33 year-old from La Spezia is on a wave of success after suffering terribly for a year due to his crash in the 2006 Giro.

"Like Di Luca said yesterday, this is a beautiful race," continued the out-of breath stage winner. "24 wins in the Giro, and five this year. Last year, I was forced to be on the couch and I had to watch on TV, between then and now I have done a lot of work."

Petacchi put the finishing touches on a wonderful lead-out. After Milram's Alessandro Cortinovis pulled off, at 800 metres to go the Maglia Ciclamino of Petacchi was in third wheel behind teammates Mirco Lorenzetto and Brett Lancaster, and followed by Stefano Zanini (Predictor-Lotto), Richeze and Bettini.

Lorenzetto led through the hard right-hander and then pulled off 300 metres later, at -500m. Aussie Lancaster took his captain through the final corner at -400m before the Milram duo were anticipated by Zanini. The Italian jumped at 200 metres to go on Lancaster's right while Petacchi went to his teammate's left and charged hard. Zanini faded while Richeze and Bettini took the best of the rest.

Giuseppe Palumbo (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) took forth and Zanini ended in fifth while Liquigas' Danilo Di Luca ended in 43rd as general classification winner of the three-week race.

"I am so satisfied to arrive here in Milano," said the exhausted but happy Di Luca. "It is nice to have the fans here. Today it is a big party for me! The last 24 hours have been great; there will be parties here in Milano and then when I return home to Pescara."

Also, arriving safely in Milano were Andy Schleck (Team CSC) and Eddy Mazzoleni (Astana), who took second and third in the overall battle behind Di Luca. 21 year-old Schleck also can be thankful for winning the Maglia Bianca of best young rider. The Luxembourger finished 5'05" better than Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir).

Petacchi made sure that no one touched his Maglia Ciclamino of point's leader, he finished first with 55 points over Di Luca. Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) had secured his mountain jersey by the end of stage 18 to Monte Zoncolan, when he finished second behind teammate Simoni. The rider from Puglia took home the Maglia Verde with 79 points, which easily topped second placed Fortunato Baliani (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) at 46.

Oscar Gatto won the Maglia Nera ('black jersey'), which is not an actual jersey or a competition this year but is an honour nonetheless. It goes to the last rider on the general classification; he finished 3:41'39" behind Di Luca.

How it unfolded

Today was to be a sprinters' cat-walk on Corso Venezia when the race ended after ten 4.8-kilometre circuits. The final stage of the 2007 Giro d'Italia left from the small town of Vestone in Val Trompia north of Brescia, then headed west across the Lombardy plain to Milano, where the final finishing circuits were set to provide for a dramatic sprinters' blast.

All eyes were on the sprinters for Sunday's stage. Comeback kid Ale-Jet Petacchi of Team Milram was riding to win his 24th career Giro d'Italia stage win, to equal the great Giuseppe Saronni. Other sprinters were ready for the challenge, like Alexandre Usov (Ag2r Prévoyance), Matti Breschel (Team CSC), Julian Dean (Crédit Agricole), Maximiliano Richeze (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare), Nikolai Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and Paolo Bettini (Quickstep-Innergetic).

141 riders lined up this morning on Viale Marconi for the partenza in Vestone. The day got started at 12:32, enough time for the locals to see the riders depart along Via Rinaldini and then head off for a Sunday lunch.

Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC) and Daniele Contrini (Tinkoff Credit Systems) were the first riders to light the race on fire. The Norwegian, winner of stage eight, and the Italian (who lives in the area) struck at four kilometres after the start in Vestone, just before Casto. The Gruppo Maglia Rosa had no intentions to chase this duo down and the two boys had 1'40" in hand by kilometre eight.

Sure enough, Contrini had attacked for his friends and family in his home town of Gardone Val Trompia, kilometre 27. After kisses and well wishes, Contrini faded back to the gruppo, which had already taken back Arvesen (km 20).

The day's only classified climb, and the last GPM ('Gran Premio della Montagna') of this Giro, the Passo Tre Termini came at kilometre 37.4. Frédéric Bessy (Cofidis) led over the top of the 10.5-kilometre climb (at 690m) followed by Dario Andriotto (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) and Elio Aggiano (Tinkoff Credit Systems). The points gathered did not change the final overall mountains classification, which was locked-down by Saunier's Leonardo Piepoli.

Andriotto pushed on and soon the race was in the red. It was an all-red Acqua e Sapone affair led by Stefano Garzelli, Dario Andriotto and 'Mad Max' Massimo Codol. The boys had the same intentions as Contrini, shooting the breeze with friends and family along the side of the road. After a quick 'ciao' the boys were rejoined by the Gruppo Maglia Rosa, and at kilometre 52 the race was back to 'gruppo compatto.'

The riders passed the southern edge of Lago d'Iseo, home of sprinter Danilo Napolitano (winner of stage nine but no longer in the race), and it was just about to enter the province of Bergamo. The average for the riders after two hours of racing was a Sunday's tourist pace, 28.200 km/h. Most of the riders were enjoying this last day of the Giro and are not concerned about racing.

The riders passed through Palazzolo sull'Oglio in 'gruppo compatto' with Danilo Di Luca riding in all pink, not a matching Cannondale but with pink handlebar tape. Near Di Luca was White Lightning Andy Schleck. The 21 year-old Luxemburger had wrapped up the young rider's classification and was enjoying the day.

The next 'attack' came from the former Maglia Rosa wearer, Marco Pinotti. He moved up the road to stop to say 'hello' to his friends and family in Brembate. The average after three hours of racing was 30.700 km/h.

There was a small incident soon after the race entered the city streets of Milano. Fabien Patanchon (Française Des Jeux), Evgeni Petrov (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) and Matteo Tosatto (Quickstep-Innergetic) were tied up in the incident. World Champ Bettini stopped to check on his teammate Tosatto, who was also in the crash. Everything was fine and the riders approached the day's finale.

At 16:45 the race entered the first of the final 10 circuits led by Liquigas. The riders only had 48 kilometres left to enjoy the 2007 Corsa Rosa. The circuit takes a right at -3000m, a U-turn at -1500m, a hard right at -750m and the final turn, a light right-hander, at -400m onto Corso Venezia.

Liquigas continued its victory drive though seven circuits to go but the pace was rising and soon we saw the sprinters' teams move forward; the day was ready to turn from a love-fest into a Milano street fight. Bettini was still at the back of the peloton, but he is surrounded by the blue-guard. The Quickstep boys seemed to be hatching an anti-Petacchi plan and ready to throw some punches on Corso Venezia. However, he dropped off the gruppo and it seemed he decided not to contest the final day.

The pace was lifted, the third circuit was run off in 7'04" at 40.755 km/h and the fourth was 6'47" at 42.457 km/h. There were now six circuits to go as the gruppo was being led by Alessandro Spezialetti (Liquigas).

Before the start of five circuits to go (-24km) Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems) launched. He attacked leading to Corso Venezia and looked strong. Markel Irizar (Euskaltel-Euskadi) gave chase but gave up by the start of final four circuits (-19.2km) with 'Misha' ahead by 17". The sixth circuit was run off at 6'01" at an average of 47.867 km/h.

Misha started the final of three circuits with 20" on the Gruppo Maglia Rosa. Steve Cummings (Discovery Channel) chased for some time in no-man's land but did not get far and was caught after the end of the seventh 'giro', which was run off in 6'13" at 46.327 km/h..

Misha was in his drops and in all sorts of pain at the start of the final of two circuits. He held a 16" gap over the Liquigas-led gruppo. The eighth 'giro' was run off in 6'13" at 46.327 km/h. The pace proved too much and the 22 year-old Russian had to give up at seven kilometres to go.

Liquigas made sure no incidents happened to its captain by pushing the pace even higher, up through the start of the final lap. The ninth 'giro' was run in 6'06" at 47.213 km/h. Milram finally came to the front for Petacchi a by three kilometres to go. World Champion Bettini had a change in plans as he was now locked on Petacchi's wheel.

Milram had to fend of Zanini's Predictor-Lotto and Palumbo's Acqua & Sapone but it did so with ease thanks to Cortinovis, Lorenzetto and then Lancaster. CSC's Matti Breschel, third in stage 18, was also there but none of the sprinters left in the race seemed to be on the level of Petacchi, who blazed down the left, next to the barriers, for 2007 Giro win number five.

The final 'giro' was run at a smoking average of 52.200 km/h, which pushed the stage's overall average speed to 34.807 km/h.

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