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Almost the entire OPQS lead-out train escape in the finale when the Lotto train crashes and while the rival sprinters fight to get back on, the team delivers Cavendish to an easy win ahead of his teammate Petacchi; Contador defends his lead

Photo: LAPRESSE

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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ALESSANDRO PETACCHI

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MARK CAVENDISH

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PETER SAGAN

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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TIRRENO - ADRIATICO

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17.03.2014 @ 16:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mark Cavendish benefited from his strong Omega Pharma-Quick Step lead-out train to take what looked like an easy win in today's big sprint stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. With the team lined out on the front, they avoided the carnage when the Lotto Belisol train crashed, meaning that the team almost escaped on their own, and Cavendish benefited from a flawless lead-out to take the victory while his teammate Alessandro Petacchi even had enough in reserve to hold onto 2nd. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) defended the lead on the eve of the final time trial.

 

In the first part of the season, it has been a hot topic of discussion that the reinforced Omega Pharma-Quick Step lead-out train has not been firing on all cylinders and prior to today Mark Cavendish had only taken one single win. Today the team delivered a flawless effort that saw them avoid the late carnage that marred the sprint on the penultimate stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico.

 

The team had its entire train lined out on the front when they approached the flamme rouge and the final corner while the Lotto Belisol train was looming just behind. Michal Kwiatkowski led the peloton into that final turn with his teammates Matteo Trentin, Mark Renshaw, Alessandro Petacchi and Cavendish behind him while Lampre lead-out man Maximilano Richeze was on the Manxman's wheel. On their left-hand side, the Lotto Belisol train was looming, ready to strike.

 

Unfortunately, most of the red train hit the deck in the turn, meaning that the sprint became very confusing. The OPQS riders and Richeze escaped on their own while behind their rival sprinters were scrambling to get back up to them.

 

That cost a lot of energy for most of them as Daryl Impey and Davide Appollonio were the first to make the junction. Andre Greipel - now completely on his own - had to make a sprint just to get there and as soon as he had regained contact, he realized that it was mission impossible and decided to sit up.

 

Meanwhile, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step train was working flawlessly and when Renshaw started his effort, Richeze even blew up. This opened another gap behind the Australian, Petacchi, and Cavendish, meaning that the outcome was no longer in doubt.

 

Renshaw and Petacchi delivered their sprinter perfectly and when Petacchi looked back to realize that there was enough of a gap to make it a 1-2 for the Belgian team, he restarted his sprint to cross the line behind his superior teammate.

 

Behind, Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) went head-to-head for the final spot on the podium, with the Slovakian narrowly edging out the Frenchman.

 

Earlier in the stage, Cannondale had applied the pressure on the final climb of the day and their fast pace had left the day's big favourite Marcel Kittel behind. Despite having his entire Giant-Shimano team for support, the German failed to get back in contention as their rival teams were all keen to keep him at bay and so he never got a chance to sprint in this race after crashing on stage 2.

 

The race comes to an end tomorrow when the riders tackle a 9km completely flat time trial on an out-and-back course in San Benedetto del Tronto. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) finished safely in the bunch in today's stage and kept a comfortable 2.08 lead over Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and even though the win seems to be secured, the remaining podium spots will be very much up for grabs in the race against the clock.

 

One for the sprinters

After two day in the mountains, it was time for the flat terrain in the penultimate stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico. The 189km route took the riders from Chieti to Porto Sant'Elpidio and mostly consisted of a flat run down the Adriatic Coast but here were a few undulations near the end. With 41.1km to go, the riders crested the final categorized climb of the race before they ended the stage with two laps on a 13.8km flat finishing circuit.

 

For the sixth day in a row, the race took off under beautiful sunshine but three riders decided not to take the start. Suffering from tendonitis, Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) has decided to head home while Jens Mouris (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Jesse Sergent (Trek) are also both out of the race.

 

The break takes off

With the stage being a treat for the sprinters, it was no surprise that there was no real interest to get involved in the early action. Right from the gun, Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp), Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Vincent Jerome (Europcar), and Steve Morabito (BMC) took off and they were allowed to open up an immediate gap.

 

Team NetApp-Endura had missed the move and so Cesare Benedetti took off in pursuit of the four escapees. Meanwhile, the riders were heading up the first categorized climb and while Kennaugh led the front group across the line - no one decided to contest the sprint as Marco Canola (Bardiani) has secured himself the mountains jersey - the going got a bit too tough for Jerome who fell off the pace.

 

Benedetti makes the junction

Jerome was passed by Benedetti who made it across to the leaders while behind Tinkoff-Saxo set a steady tempo on the front of the peloton. After 12km of racing, the gap was 1.47 and 10km further up the road, it reached 5.10. Jerome had now given up and was back in the peloton.

 

The gap was allowed to reach 5.30 when the sprint teams started to control affairs. At the 35km mark, the gap had come down to 4.40 and for a long time it was kept stable between the 4- and 5-minute marks.

 

The peloton slows down

A sudden acceleration in the peloton brought the gap down to just 3 minutes after 100km of racing but the peloton realized that it was too early to peg it back. Hence, they  again slowed down and with 75km to go, the gap was back up to 4.09.

 

The riders now entered the hilly zone near the end and this prompted Cannondale to hit the front. The Italian team wanted to make the race hard for Sagan's faster rivals, and Maciej Bodnar, Paolo Longo, Alan Marangoni, and Kristijan Koren all took some huge turns as they tried to apply the pressure.

 

Cannondale ride hard on the climb

As a consequence, the gap quickly came down to 2.50 which forced the escapees to react and they rode hard to stabilize the gap around that mark. As soon as they hit the bottom of the final climb, however, they started to lose ground as Cannondale were now giving it their all.

 

Climbers Ivan Basso and Moreno Moser and classics specialist Oscar Gatto all set a brutal pace that started to put several riders into difficulty. The first to drop off was Kittel's lead-out man Tom Veelers but moments later it was the sprinter himself who had fallen off.

 

Kittel loses ground

The German was surrounded by his teammates Tom Dumoulin, Simon Geschke, and Tom Stamsnijder and a little later Roy Curvers also dropped back. At the top of the climb, the small group around him that also included William Bonnet, Davide Cimolai, and Murilo Fischer, was already 1.20 behind while the escapees were only 1.05 ahead.

 

Basso, Moser, and Gatto maintained the pressure on the descent and later Marangoni also came back to the front. Lotto Belisol also wanted to keep Kittel at bay and they asked Adam Hansen who was later replaced by Bart Declercq, to join the pace-setting.

 

OPQS join the action

The Kittel group managed to reduce the gap to a minute by the time they crossed the finish line for the first time. In the peloton, OPQS had now also started to contribute, putting Wout Poels on the front.

 

The Kittel group got it down to 40 seconds but when the gap went back up to a minute, they seemed to have lost the battle. As they started to catch other dropped riders, however, Sam Bennett also joined the group, meaning that NetApp-Endura asked several riders to drop down to assist with the chase.

 

Bauer attacks

With 25km to go, Bauer attacked and it took a little while for Kennaugh and Morabito to get back on. However, Benedetti never made the junction and he was quickly back in the peloton.

 

The chase work had its effect for Kittel and when they started the final lap, the gap was down to just 30 seconds. Kennaugh decided to sit up as the advantage of the break was only 20 seconds but Bauer and Morabito marshaled on until they were caught 10km from the line.

 

Gilbert makes a move

The gap came down to 23 seconds and Cannondale was now alone on the front. At this point, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) attacked and he opened up a nice gap.

 

The ill fate for the Kittel group was sealed when Tinkoff-Saxo lend a hand to the pace-setting to keep Contador out of trouble and with 5km to go, they sat up. As Ag2r hit the front for Appollonio, they caught Gilbert with 3km to go.

 

Lampre on the front

Lampre hit the front with Filippo Pozzato but inside the final 3km, OPQS kicked into action. Martin took a huge turn on the front before leaving it to Kwiatkowski to continue the work.

 

All was set for a big battle between the OPQS and Lotto Belisol trains but all was ruined when the riders entered the final corner. The Lotto Belisol train went down, leaving it to the OPQS riders to share the spoils between them.

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