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Sacchi claims overall lead in Tour Down Under

Italian rider Fabio Sacchi held off Stuart O'Grady in a thrilling sprint finish to claim the overall lead in the Tour Down Under cycling race here Wednesday. But an investigation involving Australian Olympian Graeme Brown was garnering all the attention. Brown is one of several Australian riders named in an alleged incident with a car at last year's Noumea six-day track race. After losing the race lead in stage two of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, Brown (United Water) denied knowledge of the incident. But Cycling Australia confirmed it has received notice from the New Caledonian

Australia’s Brown under investigation

By Rupert Guinness, The Australian

Fabio Sacchi nips Stuart O'Grady at the line.

Fabio Sacchi nips Stuart O’Grady at the line.

Photo: Graham Watson

Italian rider Fabio Sacchi held off Stuart O’Grady in a thrilling sprint finish to claim the overall lead in the Tour Down Under cycling race here Wednesday. But an investigation involving Australian Olympian Graeme Brown was garnering all the attention.

Brown is one of several Australian riders named in an alleged incident with a car at last year’s Noumea six-day track race. After losing the race lead in stage two of the Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under, Brown (United Water) denied knowledge of the incident.

But Cycling Australia confirmed it has received notice from the New Caledonian cycling federation that allegations had been made. And while CA would not reveal those named, sources said Brown is known to be among them.

Reports are that a car rented during the November meeting was seriously damaged by up to six Australian and New Zealand riders. If Brown, 21 and from NSW, is found to have been involved, he could face a long suspension from all racing and the national program.

Fabio Sacchi enjoys the spoils of victory.

Fabio Sacchi enjoys the spoils of victory.

Photo: Graham Watson

Meanwhile, Sacchi, who rides for Italy’s Saeco team, won the 142km stage from Norwood, in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs, to Murray Bridge in three hours 26 minutes 34 seconds.

Australian O’Grady, who rides for French outfit Credit Agricole, finished a close second with Germany’s Kai Hundertmark (Team Telekom) third.

The win follows Sacchi’s third placing in Tuesday’s 47km opening stage and gave him the yellow leader’s jersey with a total time of 4:26:30.

“All victories are number one for me but winning in Australia is very important, I enjoy it here, I feel that Australia gives me a lot so I’m hoping to give something back to Australia,” said Sacchi.

The 26-year-old Italian described the second stage, which wound through the steep Adelaide Hills and included two King of the Mountain battles as very tough.

“I’m just grateful to have got through with this win and I’ll enjoy tonight for what it’s worth,” he said. “I’ll have a look and see how I am in the morning, I’m not thinking too far ahead of myself. It will be hard to sleep tonight because it’s such an important victory.”

Saeco teammate Jorg Ludewig of Germany was second overall on the same time after winning two sprint stages Wednesday to claim the sprint jersey. O’Grady was third just two seconds behind after also finishing second on stage one to fellow Australian Graeme Brown (United Water).

As for Brown, who hopes to etch a career as a European-based professional road rider, this is another chapter in an ugly history of on and off saddle controversy. In the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic last October he was fined three times and relegated to last place in one stage-winning breakaway for dangerous riding and fighting.

In the 1999 Oceania track titles he was slapped a one-month ban for dangerous riding against an Italian rider in the sprint. He was also disqualified from the points race in last year’s national track titles for illegal riding in the points race.

CA president Mike Victor yesterday said he is waiting for a written report from New Caledonian before deciding if an inquiry is needed.

Until then, Brown — a member of Australia’s Olympic team pursuit squad — will now have to settle on trying to win bunch sprints and the points competition. In the latter, he is now second behind Ludewig.

After winning stage one on Tuesday night, Brown missed the winning 15-man break in today’s 142km stage from Norwood to Murray Bridge. He is now 70th overall, more than 27 minutes back of Sacchi.

Australian Adrian Laidler (Uni SA) dared fate and launched the first attack almost as soon as the flag dropped for the start proper. He was soon caught. But his Uni of SA team stuck to their bold plan of tempting fate to follow as many breaks as they could.

At Checker Hill Australia’s Robert Tighello (Sunsmart) led by 8 seconds over teammate Ben Day. Then Spain’s Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Linda McCartney) crossed third, leading the peloton by more than 2 minutes.

At 36km, four riders launched a chase of Tighello and Day. They were Ludewig, Anthony Morin (Credit Agricole), Daniele Nardello (Mapei) and Nic Brown (United Water).

For local hero O’Grady, his biggest scare came when he punctured at 35km. And in a sign of his team’s motivation to help him win a second title, four of his teammates immediately dropped back to assist.

Meanwhile, in his and the peloton’s wake, a spate of disappointing abandons began. Foremost was the decision by Tour de France stage winner Jeroen Blijlivens (Lotto) to pull out.

By the time the bunch passed through Birdwood, the two front groups had joined to make a six-strong break and led 15 others by 55 seconds. The first intermediate sprint — Mount Torrens, at 47km — was won by Ludewig over Brown and Morin.

But soon enough the chase group numbered 22 and included O’Grady, New Zealand’s Chris Jenner and France’s Benoit Poilvet (Credit Agricole), Spain’s Juan Carlos Dominguez, England’s John Tanner, Ireland’s Ciaran Power (Linda McCartney), Australia’s Patrick Jonker and France’s Dominique Rault (Big Mat), Sacchi, Australia’s Cadel Evans (Sunsmart), Denmark’s Nicolaj Bo Larsen and Latvia’s Arvis Piziks (CSC-World Online).

At 66km Nardello sensed the chase and attacked on a slight rise. Only Ludewig had the muscle — and mind — to chase. But theirs’ was an effort to no avail.

At the second intermediate sprint at the “German town” of Hahndorf at 85km Ludewig led from Nardello (Mapei) by 1.21 gap from the strung out chase group.

With 50km to go, Nardello and Ludewig were caught by six riders from the big chase group: Jonker, Alexandre Botcharov (Ag2R), Glenn D’Hollander (Lotto), Rault (Big Mat), Poilvet (Credit Agricole) and Nicolaj Bo Larsen (CSC-World Online). They then had a one minute lead on a seven riders: O’Grady, Jenner, Sacchi, Hundertmark, Piziks, Evans and Australia’s Nick Gates (Sunsmart).

With 33km to go, that first chase were 30 seconds behind the leaders. And soon the bridge is crossed, with a lead group of 15 forming.

The big losers of the day were Telekom who saw Germans Steffen Wesemann and Robert Bartko caught in the main group at least 3:35 behind.

Credit Agricole, with three riders in the front, tried to control the stage for O’Grady. But after a long and flat downhill run into the town of Murray Bridge, it was Sacchi who got the upper hand on O’Grady.

Nardello attacked with 600m to go, but in the mayhem of a tricky finish, Sacchi slipped under O’Grady’s left to win the second race of his five-year career as a professional.

AFP contributed to the report

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Results

TOUR DOWN UNDER, Australia, January 16-21;
Stage 2, Norwood to Murray Bridhge;
1. Fabio Sacchi (I), Saeco Macchine Per CafÈ, 142km in 3.26.24; 2. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole; 3. Kai Hundertmark (G), Telekom; 4. Nick Gates (Aus), Sunsmart-Mitsubishi; 5. Glenn D’Hollander (B), Lotto Adecco; 6. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), Ag2R Decathlon; 7. Cadel Evans (Aus) Sunsmart-Mitsubishi; 8. Benoit Poilvet (F), Credit Agricole; 9. Jorg Ludewig (G), Saeco Macchine Per CafÈ; 10. Nicolaj Bo Larsen (Dk), CSC-World Online; 11. Patrick Jonker (Aus), Big Mat;

General classification;
1. Sacchi (I), Saeco Macchine Per CafÈ, 4.26.30; 2. Ludewig (G), Saeco Macchine Per CafÈ, same time; 3. O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole, at 0.02; 4. Hundertmark (G), Telekom, at 0.04; 5. Daniele Nardello (I), Mapei-Quick Step, same time; 6. Gates (Aus), Sunsmart-Mitsubishi, at 0.06; 7. D’Hollander (B), Lotto Adecco, same time; 8. Botcharov (Rus), Ag2R Decathlon, same time; 9. Evans (Aus), Sunsmart-Mitsubishi, same time; 10. Poilvet (F), Credit Agricole, same time; 11. Bo Larsen (Dk) CSC-World Online, same time.