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Giro d'Italia 2009: Stage 3

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Welcome back to Italy and the Giro! Today is another flat (or flattish) stage, and we expect another mass sprint at the end. And after yesterday's outcome, today's may be even more exciting.

The peloton takes a jaunt across northeastern Italy today, 198km from Grado on the Adriatic coast, heading inland to Valdobbiadene. From Grado, the peloton headed north to Udine, where they turned to the west for the rest of the day.

48km remaining from 198km

As expected, we have an escape group. A group of five got away at 5km, and has now built their lead up to 7:00 minutes. The escapees are Giuseppe Palumbo (Acqua e Sapone), Yuriy Krivstov (AG2R), Mauro Facci (Quick Step), Michael Ignatiev (Katusha) and Björn Schröder of Milram.

55km remaining from 198km

Oops, their lead is falling already. It is down to 6:30.

197 riders took off today at 12:40. Missing was Milram's Matthias Russ, who crashed in the finale yesterday. He and his broken collarbone have already flown home to Germany, where he will undergo surgery tomorrow.

60km remaining from 198km

We look for another mass sprint today. There is a Cat. 3 mountain about 42 km from the end, along with some other bumps in the road. But those probably won't be enough to discourage the men with the fast legs.

Who will take it today? After yesterday's sprint, Alessandro Petacchi (LPR) has to be the top favourite. But Mark Cavendish doesn't like to finish second, and he will have something to prove today.

68km remaining from 198km

Columbia-Highroad and Milram are leading the peloton as they all head to the west. The break's lead is holding steady.

The race started today in Grado, a popular tourist destination known as L'Isola del Sole, (the Sunny Island). By the way, it was given to Austria in 1815 and not returned to Italy until 1918.

Let's take a look at the riders in the break group. Giuseppe Palumbo, 33, has been with Acqua e Sapone since 2004. He turned pro in 1998 with Riso-Scotti, rode for Amica Chips in 2000 and De Nardi 2001-2003. He won the GP Kanton Argau and the GP Gippingen in 2002, a stage in the Giro della Liguria in 2003 and a stage in the Tour de Wallonie in 2007. Palumbo was quite successful as an amateur, winning the Italian U17 road title in 1991, and the World U19 road title in 1992 and 1993.

Yuriy Krivstov of AG2R, 30, rode with Jean Delatour in 2002-2003 before joining AG2R. The Ukranian brings in consistent top ten finishes in time trials.

Quick Step's Mauro Facci is 26. The Italian turned pro with Fasso Bortolo in 2002 and stayed there before joining Barloworld for a year in 2006. He came to the Belgian team in 2007. He's another of those domestiques who can't point to a long palmares.

87km remaining from 198km

The peloton continues to grind away at the escape group's lead, and it is now down to 4:38.

Mikhail Borisovich Ignatiev, to give him his full name, is the youngster of the group at 23 years old. He is, as you might expect, Russian. He turned pro in 2006 with Tinkoff and has stayed with the team with it various names since then. Ignatiev had a number of wins in 2007, including the Trofeo Laigueglia. His biggest career success, though, has to be the 2004 Olympic gold medal in points.

That brings us to Björn Schröder of Milram. The German is 28 years old and rode for Team Wiesenhof from 2003 to 2005 before joining Milram. He won the Regio-Tour last summer, and has ridden the Tour de France twice.

Cavendish felt bad for his team after placing only second yesterday. "They did a perfect job, that's why it's difficult to accept losing," the Columbia sprinter said.

LPR and Columbia are leading the peloton. They just rode on part of an airport's runway. Planes flew overhead with red,white and green smoke tails. We just hope that no one tried to land or take off!

The escape group is now riding at 41 km/h, and the chasing peloton is at 43 km/h.

Mark Cavendish is not only the overall leader but also the best young rider (he is only 23). But since he is currently being "pretty in pink", the maglia bianca goes on the shoulders of the runner-up.

Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-NGC) is racing on home roads. "I have not read all that my fans have written on the roads, but they always have fun."

98km remaining from 198km

The gap has increased again. It is up to six minutes. Perhaps the peloton got held up by security checks at the airport – that happens to all the rest of us!

It's lunchtime now, in Fontanafredda, a town of about 11,000.

Cavendish and Lance Armstrong have a nice chat underway. No idea what they're saying, but there is a lot of gesturing and laughing.

World Champion Alessandro Ballan couldn't ride the Giro because he is still recovering from a nasty bout of Cytomegalovirus. He is not just sitting at home watching the race on TV, though. He is already at today's finish line, which is only about 35 km away from his home in Castelfranco Veneto.

ISD's Oscar Gatto is also from this area.

"Today the team is working for me. I know these roads well, I am at home," said Oscar Gatto (ISD). "It will be a nervous finale, with some ups and downs."

First-year pro Ben Swift of Team Katusha admitted he was "a little surprised" at finishing third in yesterday's sprint. He considers himself to be more of an allrounder than a sprinter. Today's finish should be even better for the 21-year old. "If it's all together at the end and I'm in a good position, I'll certainly give it another shot."

The Italian CONI has suspended Alejandro Valverde for two years. Check our news. We will update this story as events occur.

123km remaining from 198km

OK, back to today's race! With 75 km to go, the gap is down to five minutes.

We have now entered the Province of Treviso, whose capital is Treviso.

Cavendish looks bored. No doubt he wonders why they have to waste so much time in a stage before getting to the importat part – the sprint!

Everyone is going 41 km/h right now. The escape group is going by some lovely green fields. And some of those plants look like grapevines.

There is one intermediate sprint today, at km.128.2. It is in Conegliano, a city well known for its wine, mainly Prosecco (speaking of grapevines!)

There was no sprint at the sprint, so to speak. The five in the break just rode right through it as if it wasn't there, with Palumbo leading the way.

What does one eat in the Treviso region? A lot, actually. But that doesn't surprise you, does it? The risotto with wild asparagus sounds good to us, but we think we will pass on the sopa coada, or pigeon soup. Likewise the snail stew.

The peloton now rolls through the intermediate sprint en masse, with the gap now being 4:35.

The escape group is going up a climb right now, not a ranked one, but tough enough.

This is the San Pietro de Filleto, with an average gradient of 11.9%, with two sections of 16%. It is said to bear a strong resemblence to the legendary Mur du Huy.

Now the field starts its way up. Will this first of three climb today prove to be too much for any of the sprinters?

Up through the vineyards they go...

Facci gets a visit from his Quick Step team car.

Ouch, they just hit one of the very steep sections...

135km remaining from 198km

The escapees are over the top, and enjoying a descent, although their lead has dropped dramatically, to 2:45.

How about a history lesson? Treviso joined up with Venice in 1389, but they all fell to Napoleon in 1797. The area was turned over to Austria, which held it until the area was liberated in 1866, and it joined the Kingdom of Italy.

"It would really be nice to be here and fight for the finale on my home roads. Unfortunately, I am fighting this virus and I have just started racing. I think I will come back for the Memorial Pantani," said Ballan on Italian TV.

LPR and Katusha have taken over the lead work in the peloton.

Two orange and blue-clad riders have gone down. A Rabo rider went down in the ditch and we now hear that the Garmin rider laying in the middle of the road is Christian Vande Velde. He is not yet riding again and it is unclear whether he will be able to continue.

That would be a real blow to the American team, as Vande Velde is also their hope for the Tour de France. They have already had one major disappointment in this Giro, when they didn't win the opening team time trial.

Good news! Vande Velde is back on his bike and Zabriskie is bringing him back up to the peloton.

140km remaining from 198km

The lead continues to drop, now down to 2:18.

Schröder is back at his team car getting something to eat and drink. Some yummy Milram buttermilk and cheese, perhaps?

Cavendish is safely tucked in the peloton. His teammate Lövkvist is next to him, wearing the white jersey in Cavendish's stead.

Oh very bad news: Vande Velde had to drop out and is being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. We wish him all the best.

147km remaining from 198km

In about another 10km we will have today's ranked climb.

Levi Leipheimer of Astana is one of the top favourites to win this race, but he almost lost it all yesterday. While descending the Monte Bello in the finale, he blew a tire, at 65 km/h. "Pulled it out, thankfully! It was scary to say the least," he twittered. We agree, it is pretty scary to think what might have happened if he had hit the pavement.

Liquigas's Ivan Basso lost some time yesterday, but wasn't too worried about it. "The three seconds? I don't like it, but it happens. It was partly my fault but also part of the course. Anyway, I am confident," he said.

153km remaining from 198km

The break has just entered Miane, "the City of Wine". Sounds like our kind of town!

Our mountain is rapidly approaching. It is the Combai, a Cat. 3 climb, at km156.7. It is a mere 391 meters high. The riders will go 136 meters up over 2.2 km. The average gradient is 6.2%, with a max of 10%. Although another source tells us the average is 3.9%, with a max of 13%.

A crash? or two mechanicals at the same time? Ben Swift of Katusha is getting a new tire, while Caisse d'Epargne's David Lopez Garcia fixes his own chain and is more swiftly back on his way.

Miane has invested a lot money in pink balloons in honour of the Giro. Quite pretty.

The gap is under a minute as everyone works their way up the climb.

Facci breaks out to take the mountain points. Schröder had looked like he was having problems on the climb, but took off to take second at the summit.

Krivtsov was third. But the peloton is only 30 seconds back, so they should all be caught on the descent.

Everyone goes tearing down among the grapevines now ... the leader are holding on to a scant 15 second lead. Palumbo is not giving up, but has taken off to try and save a lead.

Liquigas leads the charge, in their distinctive electric-green jerseys.

Palumbo gives up his attempt, and the whole escape is over.

161km remaining from 198km

The peloton negotiates a very tight hairpin curve. It was a bad time to be caught in the back, because those riders just lost time.

They are on the closing circuit course, with Liquigas still leading the way.

Lot and lots of grapevines...

Today's finish is in Valdobbiadene, population 10,624. This is a self-described "picturesque wine growing area". Its best known product is ProseccoConegliano-Valdobbiadene, a dry sparkling wine. Yum yum...

There are now more Giro d'Italia photos from stage one and stage one. Have a look!

LPR is at the front, with Barloworld and Acqua e Sapone moving up to help.

Everyone is holding all together here, no one will be allowed to get away.

173km remaining from 198km

The sprinters's teams have this part of the race firmly under control.

Another tight curve for the peloton, but fortunately everyone stays upright.

One Liquigas rider has moved to the front of the field as they work their way up a climb.

176km remaining from 198km

They have now finished their first lap of the closing circuit and head off for their second time around.

Tthere is a whole flock of Liquigas riders at the front, with Ivan Basso in fifth or sixth place.

178km remaining from 198km

Oops, we were a bit hasty. Now they have crossed over the finish line for the first time and take off on the bell lap.

The former break riders are falling back now. Schröder is at the end of the peloton, and Palumbo has lost contact.

They head up the Santo Stefano, everyone trying to hang on. Cavendish is still hanging out with Lövkivst and looking comfortable.

Armstrong and Leipheimer near the front, with Basso in second position. Cancellara has fallen back.

182km remaining from 198km

Liquiga is really pushing the speed here. How many sprinters will be able to hold this pace on this climb?

183km remaining from 198km

They are descending and the peloton is definitely breaking up a bit here. Will it come back together in time?

Attack! Thomas Voeckler and Davide Malacarne of Quick Step have taken off.

Now an ISD rider take off after them, Grivko, followed by none other than Saxo Banks's Jens Voigt.

Luca Mazzanti of Katusha has joined Voigt. A few more have joined them too.

The next to jump out in pursuit is Leipheimer. There are about 10-12 riders in a roughly formed group now.

The peloton has stopped! A crash apparently near the front.

188km remaining from 198km

That should be it for the escapees. Seems unlikely the peloton will recover in time to catch them now.

It doesn't look like anyone is injured. It was apparently a crash very close to the front of the group, so that is why everyone had to stop.

Needless to say, at this point it is very hard to know who is where.

The peloton is totally broken up. Cavendish is one of those who was held up – looks like he will lose his pink jersey today.

Only 23 seconds between the lead group and the first chasing group.

LPR is leading the first group. We think now that Cavendish is in the first chasing group, so perhaps he can make it back after all.

192km remaining from 198km

The lead group is rather large, maybe 40 riders? Petacchi is in it.

Ferrar of Garmin is also in the lead group.

15 seconds for the Cavendish group now.

Let's make that 25 seconds again, as there is now a climb.

195km remaining from 198km

Cavendish couldn't keep up with his group and has fallen back. Bruseghin of Lampre has pulled out of the lead group and is going for it.

Cavendish knows he has no chance and isn't trying any more.

Visconti has a nice little lead as he goes up through the town. He passes under the 1km marker.

The sprinters are trying their best, but it doesn't look like they will catch Visconti. Or will they?

They catch him. Pozzato opens the sprint for Petacchi, who jumps to the lead. Farrar second but unable to get around Ale-Jet.

Cavendish comes in, over a minute and half down.

That was it, folks! Another dramatic ending. We don't expect a sprint tomorrow, though, so be sure and join us then for another exciting stage!

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