'Ale-Jet' Petacchi hits back

Good showing by Milram sprinter with Sanremo on horizon

Beaten three days ago in the opening stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico, 'Ale-Jet' Alessandro Petacchi hit back in stage four by beating Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) in Civitanova Marche. The 34 year-old Italian of Team Milram showed his form is on target for Milano-Sanremo, March 22, when he resisted a surge by Spaniard Freire at the end of the 166-kilometre day. Swede Niklas Axelsson (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli) kept in contact with the head group to retain the leader's maglia azzurra he claimed yesterday on Montelupone.

"I think that the team did a great bit of work," said an exhausted Petacchi after the win. "That last rise [GPM Corva, -8.7km - ed.] was demanding and I knew I needed the team. I had to fend off Freire who was stuck to my wheel. I went a little long, but I was able to pull it off. Thanks to my wife and [soon to be born] baby."

Team Milram worked hard to ensure its captain ruled in the seaside resort town. It was hit with and successfully defended against an attack by Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) at eight kilometres to go, which drew along favourites Freire, Pozzato, Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC), World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and race leader Axelsson.

After a surge by Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), German Erik Zabel took control at 450 metres to go with his leader, Petacchi, in tow. It was a long lead-out and a good test for Sanremo, in one week's time. Zooming down the right hand side of the road, Petacchi came off the left of Zabel's wheel at 200 metres. The Italian from La Spezia held of Freire, who started just a little too late.

"We are near a great race [Sanremo - ed.] and it is clear that everyone wants to see how I am doing. Second the other day and winning today is good for the morale. I have always been up there in the last years at Sanremo," Petacchi added regarding La Classicissima.

'Pippo' Pozzato held with Petacchi and Freire – two riders who have a faster sprint – to finish with an impressive third. "I am happy with my condition, and the only thing that I missed is the win. If I win at Sanremo then all will be great," noted the rider from Veneto.

How it unfolded

After the battering of yesterday's Montelupone, 164 riders rolled out of Porto Recanati hoping for an easier day. At least with the parcours – the last 4.75 kilometres flat – it would be ridable, whereas yesterday many were forced to walk the final metres.

Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), who was involved in yesterday's crash with Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott), did not start.

There were many attempts at freedom, particularly from the USA-team, Slipstream, and after the first hour of racing, there was a successful move. Renaud Dion (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) broke free at kilometre 41, and they were joined by Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner) some kilometres later. The trio had 2'15" at kilometre 47, and by the GPM of Petritoli (km 58.4) the gap was at 3'00" to the gruppo, led by yesterday's escapee, Loyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale).

Oroz got back to his buddies after a flat tire, and they were now holding a gap of 4'35" at kilometre 77 in Belmonte Piceno. However, from this point on the gap started to fall. The undulating roads were taking their toll on the leaders, and on the stretch leading to Innesto it was only Oroz and Krauss in the lead with 20 seconds on the group, which had seen an active Martyn Maaskant (Slipstream Chipotle - H30).

Heading towards the Corva GPM, the escape was washed away and a group of favourites were leading the affairs. Andrea Tonti (Quick Step) started a move with Ballan, and they were joined by Bettini, Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Marco Corti (Barloworld), Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld), Luis Pasamontes (Caisse d'Epargne), Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Emanuele Sella (CSF Group Navigare), race leader Axelsson, Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux), Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner), Gerald Ciolek (High Road), George Hincapie (High Road), Linus Gerdemann (High Road), Thomas Lövkvist (High Road), Patxi Vila (Lampre), Daniele Pietropolli (LPR Brakes), Freire, Matti Breschel (Team CSC), Cancellara, Igor Astarloa (Team Milram) and Luca Mazzanti (Tinkoff Credit Systems).

The move gained only 13" by the top of the climb (km 157.3), and with 8.7 kilometres to go it would be hard to hold off Milram, who were organising a chase. Petacchi's boys had their leader in the front group with 2000 metres remaining.

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