By Andrew Hood
Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com) nipped Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) in an exciting photo-finish sprint to take his second stage in three days Friday at the Tour Mediterranean.
The 25-year-old Australian picked up his fourth win of the season (Tour Down Under stage, GP d‘Ouverture and Med Tour stage 1) at the expense of 37-year-old Cipollini, racing for just his fourth day of the season.
Cooke was beaming after beating Cipollini head-to-head for the first time.
“It was a difficult sprint. Cipollini tried to block me but couldn’t,” Cooke told Reuters. “To finally beat Cipollini, that’s something. I feel that I have progressed. I am better than last year. Now I hope to win a classic.”
Cipollini didn’t seem too upset by the loss, considering he crashed coming down the final climb of Thursday’s stage when he was taken out by another rider. The Lion King visited a chiropractor overnight but was still banged up coming into Friday’s 108km stage from Rousset to Berre l’Etang in the Rhone Valley.
“I recognize my defeat,” Cipollini told Reuters. “I fell too hard for me.”
Cipollini’s main goal of the spring is to win again at Milan-San Remo and is working some new riders into his train. Domina Vacanze drove the sprint home through some tight corners, but Cooke, already flying with good early season form, got around the flamboyant Italian.
World champion Igor Astarloa (Cofidis) retained the overall lead, but several riders, including CSC’s Jorg Jaksche and Ivan Basso, lost eight seconds as the peloton split in the final charge to the line.
Saturday’s fourth flat stage presents Cipollini and the sprinters another chance before going into Sunday’s decisive climbing team time trial at Mont Faron. Race organizers have added a twist; instead of taking the time of the fifth rider across the line, riders will be given individual times in the stage.
Tour Mediterranean (UCI 2.3), Stage 3, Rousset to Berre l’Etang
1. Baden Cooke, FDJeux.com, 108km in 2 hours, 17 minutes, 9 seconds (47.248 kph)
2. Mario Cipollini, Domina Vacanze
3. Aurelien Clerc, Quick Step
4. Bernhard Eisel, FDJeux.com
5. Marco Zanotti, Vini Caldirola, all same time
For complete stage results, click here
Overall standings (after three stages)
1. Igor Astarloa, Cofidis, 8 hours, 20 minutes, 19 seconds
2. Sylvain Chavanel, Boulangere, at 0:02
3. Paolo Bettini, Quick Step
4. Laurent Brochard, Ag2r, all same time
5. Jens Voigt, at 0:06
For complete overall results, click here