Chicchi kicks in wet Tirreno finale

Cancellara takes home leader's jersey for 27 birthday

Italian Francesco Chicchi won the final stage of the 43rd Tirreno-Adriatico, 176 kilometres starting and ending in San Benedetto del Tronto. The 27 year-old of Team Liquigas out-sprinted Italy's Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) and Great Britain's Mark Cavendish (High Road) to win on the seaside roads. Team CSC controlled the day to ensure Fabian Cancellara kept the overall leader's maglia azzurra, which he gained two days ago after winning the time trial. The Swiss, who today celebrated his 27th birthday, won the race with 16 seconds over Italian Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld).

"We have already selected the wine for tonight," said race overall winner Cancellara, who added to his win in the Tour of California prologue, Monte Paschi Eroica and stage five's time trial. "Last night we made a toast to the team's work this week. They put in some great efforts yesterday." He travels to Milano tomorrow and is considered a favourite for Saturday's Milano-Sanremo.

Chicchi, who started his professional career with Fassa Bortolo in 2003, gave himself his fist win of the year thanks to the support of his lime-green Liquigas team. The boys, who normally chauffeur Filippo Pozzato, were giving their all to the rider who captured two stages of the Danmark Rundt last August. Chicchi overcame the kick of compatriot Napolitano. "He is really at the top," said Chicchi.

The Italian, who was forced with a two-month stop last season with a crash in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, was not afraid to have a go in the rain, "if a sprinter can't do a sprint [in these conditions] then what kind of sprinter is he? I knew that my team-mates gave me their all. I still had [Murilo] Fischer and Pozzato in the last kilometre; with 300 metres, I asked Pozzato to lay off to save himself for Sanremo, and I started my sprint on the left."

The wet and slippery finale looked suited for Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto). The Australian advanced as CSF Group Navigare took control for Maximiliano Richeze (sixth) in the last three kilometres; however, Rockin' Robbie seemed to depart too early for the sprint and was left with fourth. McEwen had the help of his Belgian team, whereas Mark Cavendish was left empty handed due to High Road's bad luck.

The 21 year-old was seen drifting amongst the top sprinters looking for wheels to follow after team-mates George Hincapie and Gerald Ciolek crashed. "It was difficult," said Cavendish of the sprint. "You got lot of guys who can't sprint trying their luck. It was very dangerous in this weather. Everyone had crashed with two laps to go. My lead-out man had gone. I think I came from about 10 or 15 back."

The crash in the penultimate 10-kilometre circuit was mostly due to the rain that started to come down mid-way through the race. "It was just that everyone went down, the pavement was wet out there," Hincapie confirmed.

Alessandro Petacchi (Team Milram) did not make his mark in the sprint. The Italian looked isolated for the finale and maybe preferred to save his energy for Milano-Sanremo on Saturday.

How it unfolded

The 163 riders remaining in the 43rd Tirreno-Adriatico lined up today in San Benedetto del Tronto for the last stage of the race – a 176 run starting and ending on the Adriatico seaside. The percorso involved a clockwise journey inland, including the Cossignano GPM at 69.7 kilometres to go, or 9.7 before the first of seven finishing 10-kilometre circuits. The dead flat finale is designed for sprinters, as seen in the last few years, with 2007's victory going to Koldo Fernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

They departed at 11:41 to head into the Le Marche countryside. The rise to Castignano (km 59.4) and following climb to Cossignano (km 69.1) did nothing to form an escape group, but saw the mountain leader's maglia verde shift hands. A lack of attention on the part of Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was all it took for Frenchman Loyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale) bolt ahead to close the two point gap. Aitor Galdos (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Oroz and Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) followed before the gruppo. Mondory was in the early escape on the day to Montelupone where he earned points towards he green top.

Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) tried to make up for Oroz's loss, and they went free at kilometre 104. The duo's move never got over three minutes and seemed doomed under the surveillance of the sprinters' teams, after CSC initially controlled the pace.

With five circuits to go the Spaniards had 2'41". Lampre (for Napolitano) and then Milram (for Petacchi) added their muscle to the chase.

As the rain started to come down on the seaside town of San Benedetto del Tronto the duo's gap came under one minute. The Spaniards had 54" with two circuits remaining. The slightly dampened roads were working in their favour, but the sprinters were hungry.

Daniele Pietropolli (LPR Brakes), Maarten Wynants (Quick Step), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Francesco Ginanni (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli), Kim Kirchen (High Road), George Hincapie (High Road) and Gerald Ciolek (High Road) were amongst those involved in a rain-induced crash on the six circuit. Ginanni looked the worst of the victims, with cuts on his left shin bone.

With his finish, Freire remained in the maglia ciclamino of points leader. Thomas Lövkvist (High Road) took home the maglia bianca of best younger rider; finishing second was Italian Champion Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step).

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