Illiano blasts back

Italian Raffaele Illiano, who hadn't won in four years, profited from his team-mate Niklas Axelsson's work to win stage two of the 43rd Tirreno-Adriatico. The 31 year-old of the Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli team took the sprint over Barloworld's Enrico Gasparotto after the duo broke free from their fellow escape companions at 200 metres from the line. Linus Gerdemann (High Road), Saunier Duval's Eros Capecchi and Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval) also formed part of the winning move that went on Belvedere climb, 17.2 kilometres to go. For his efforts, Italian Gasparotto took the maglia azzurra leader's jersey from Spaniard Oscar Freire (Rabobank).

"I had my crash yesterday... After seven years as a professional..." Illiano paused while holding back the tears following his win in Gubbio, one day after crashing and taking five stitches to his knee. His last win came in October 2004, a year that also included the Intergiro win in the Giro d'Italia.

He turned professional with Colombia-Selle Italia, but last year he left the side of Team Manager Gianni Savio to ride for Ceramica Flaminia. However, in Gubbio he found that winning came easiest when working once more under the charming Italian.

"I am thankful to Savio, my parents, my wife and the trust given by Gianni Savio and [Team DS Marco] Bellini."

The day belonged to Savio's team, thanks to the two rockets fired by Swede Niklas Axelsson. The 35 year-old launched his first shot on the lower slopes of the 6.6-kilometre Belvedere to form the eventual winning move. He was immediately followed by Illiano before being joined by Gasparotto, Riccò, Capecchi and Gerdemann.

The second blast was fired by Axelsson after five hours of racing and with 800 metres to go to the line in the same city where 20 years ago Bjarne Riis recorded his first major win with a sprint over Rolf Sorensen. Riccò was most attentive to the power of Axelsson and reeled the cagey veteran back; however, Illiano countered without delay.

The finale further went haywire for the Saunier Duval rider from Modena as he tried to re-accelerate and his rear wheel touched with Gerdemann's. He continued on but shortly before the line he had to dismount and walk his Scott bike over the line, where he immediately slammed it down in disgust, annoyed that the mechanical ruined his chances.

"While I was trying to bring back the sprint, Linus Gerdemann... I don't know," he tried to explain of the German that held the leader's jersey in last year's Tour de France. "His head was hanging low, and he did not have the legs. He touched my rear wheel. I would have won. I could have won." In fairness, looking at the re-play, it appeared that Riccò was the one who deviated from his line and not the German.

The chasing group trailed in 32 seconds later with Italian Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) leading the charge. It was always within reach of the six-man move, but never able to close in on the gap that stayed more or less at 25 seconds. "At five or six kilometres to go, it was too late to start the work," noted Pozzato, who is building his form for the upcoming Milano-Sanremo, March 22.

How it unfolded

The day started out at 10:42 when 168 riders rolled out of Civitavecchia, the city where Oscar Freire (Rabobank) took the win and the overall leader's maglia azzurra. Four kilometres into the longest stage of the 43rd Tirreno-Adriatico, the day had its first escape: Daniele Contrini (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and 'Lucky' Fortunato Baliani (CSF Group Navigare).

Contrini and 'Lucky' were given their freedom and allowed to build an advantage of 7'58" by kilometre 105. However, with teams Rabobank, Lampre and Milram on the prowl the move was not to be successful. Shortly after entering Umbria's Perugia province, the gap was down to 5'20". In the main gruppo Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) and Christian Murro (Lampre) were showing strong.

Antton Luengo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) abandoned with 30 kilometres remaining.

The luck of the duo ran out at kilometre 179 and the door opened for stage finale tactics on the Belvedere GPM (Gran Premio della Montagna). Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas) launched himself up the road and was marked by, among others, Belgian Champion Stijn Devolder (Quick Step). The games were putting some of the sprinters on the ropes; Alessandro Petacchi (Team Milram) and World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) were seen near the rear end of the race. By the GPM they were 1'18" back of the race winning move that had been formed shortly into Belvedere (630m).

An elite chase group had formed with Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare), Daniele Pietropolli (LPR Brakes) and Luca Mazzanti (Tinkoff Credit Systems). They were absorbed with the chase group that included Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Pozzato, Di Luca, Paolo Savoldelli (LPR Brakes) and recent Eroica winner, Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC). The eventual 21-man move finished the race 32" back. Freire, who was not in this group, finished 8'23" back.

The Tirreno-Adriatico continues tomorrow with stage three, starting from Gubbio and travelling 195 kilometres to bring the riders to the 1.78-kilometre wall of a finish in Montelupone.

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