By Andrew Hood
Rabobank’s Oscar Freire won Wednesday’s final stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico to send a very strong message to world champion Mario Cipollini.
Just days before the World Cup opener at Milan-San Remo, Freire got around Cipo and his formidable train to upset the world champion.
“Guess I got lucky and Cipo made a mistake,” Freire said.
Cipollini came in second, but won two bunch sprints during TA, Italy’s first major stage race of the season. German Erik Zabel came across third, a good sign for the struggling Telekom veteran who’s only won once this season on the eve of his major early-season goal.
Fassa Bortolo’s Filippo Pozzato won the battle of the time bonuses to take the overall title. Pozzato started the day just 1 second behind Saeco’s Danilo Di Luca, winner of Tuesday’s stage. Pozzato took the lead on intermediate sprints to score the biggest win so far this fast-rising star.
“I don’t want to get too excited yet, but I think someday I can fight for races like Milan-San Remo or the world championships,” he said.
Tirreno-Adriatico’s most difficult climbing stage was canceled Sunday after snow and fog made racing conditions too perilous. As a result of the cancellation and the fact that the race had no, intermediate sprints and finish-line time bonuses played huge role in determining the outcome.
Riders take a break before the hype begins in earnest for Saturday’s Milan-San Remo (of course, it already has in Italy). Defending champion Cipollini is the pre-race favorite, but Freire and Zabel will be nipping at his heels.