By Andrew Hood
Quick Step’s Paolo Bettini saw his chances for overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico slip away after he got caught up behind the final sprint coming into the finish line of Tuesday’s 181km sixth stage from Teramo to Torricella Sicura.
Bettini was about eight riders back when two-time world champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) clipped tires with Quick Step’s Luca Paolini with about 600 meters to go. Freire went down and both Bettini and Paolini got caught up in the pile-up and fell out of contention.
But Bettini’s loss was Danilo Di Luca’s gain.
The Saeco rider was just ahead of Paolini and came clean around Filippo Pozatto (Fassa Bortolo) to win the stage and slip into the overall lead with just one stage to go.
“It’s a shame to lose everything because of this. I was in position to win the race and now, because of a spill, I will not,” said Bettini, who fell to seventh at 20 seconds back. Tuesday’s stage into Torricella Sicura was considered a mountain-top finish, so unlike a bunch sprint, the time differences caused by a crash in the final kilometer stand.
“The rules are the rules, but this really wasn’t a mountain stage,” Bettini said. “It’s not good for Tirreno-Adriatico to finish like this.”
Despite the pileup, pretty boy Danilo said he’s been forced to change his ways to score victories in today’s hyper-competitive cycling world.
“There are no longer big differences between the strongest and the weakest in the peloton. To win today, you have to use your brains, not your legs,” Di Luca said after crossing the line one second ahead of Pozzato (Fassa Bortolo) and Michael Boogerd (Rabobank).
Di Luca played the patient hand in the shortened up-and-down course. Foul weather forced race organisers to eliminate a major climb and instead the racers finished over three circuits into Torricella Sicura.
With the spill, Bettini fell out of the race lead into seventh-place and Paolini into 10th. Pozzato is just one second back while Boogerd is in third at nine seconds adrift.
“It’s a shame for a race like Tirreno-Adriatico to be decided by time bonuses,” Di Luca said. “We lost some of the climbs due to weather, but we need more climbs and we need a time trial. This is an important race and it deserves better.”
The Tirreno-Adriatico concludes Wednesday with a circuit stage and a flat finish into San Bennetto, where Mario Cipollini promises to win for the third time in this year’s edition.
Results – Stage 6
1. Danilo Di Luca (I), 178km in 4hrs 59mins 47secs
2. Filippo Pozzato (I), at 1 sec
3. Michael Boogerd (Nl), same time
4. Marcus Zberg (Swi), at 2secs
5. Andreas Kloden (G), s.t.
6. Ruggero Marzoli (I), at 4secs
7. Enrico Cassani (I), at 6secs
8. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), at 9secs
9. Paolo Bossoni (I), at 13secs
10. Giuliano Figueras (I), s.t.Overall
1. Danilo Di Luca (I), in 25:21:11
2. Filippo Pozzato (I), at 1sec
3. Micheal Boogerd (Nl), at 9secs
4. Ruggero Marzoli (I), at 10secs
5. Andreas Kloden (G), at 18secs
6. Marcus Zberg (Swi), s.t.
7. Paolo Bettini (I), at 20secs
8. Enrico Cassani (I), at 22secs
9. Erik Zabel (G), at 23secs
10. Luca Paolini (I), at 24secs