Mazzanti Wins Stage 4 of Giro; Bettini Relegated After Cooke Crashes
Luca Mazzanti (Panaria) has won Stage 4 of the Giro d?Italia, but not in the manner that he would have preferred. The race jury declared Mazzanti the winner of the flat, 220-km run from Giffoni Valle Piana to Frosinone after relegating maglia rosa Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) to fourth place. Bettini crossed the finish line first but appeared to cause Baden Cooke (La Francaise des Jeux) to crash in doing so. Dario Cioni (Liquigas) and Sergei Gontchar (Domina Vacanze) finished second and third, respectively. Bettini remains the maglia rosa.
The stage was ridden in warm, fair conditions. In the first km, Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Saunier Duval) attacked. Numerous attacks followed, and consequently, the pace was fast. Cedric Vasseur (Cofidis) and Marco Pinotti (Saunier Duval) escaped and led the field by five minutes after an hour of racing.
Eventually, the peloton began to chase. The chase cut the fugitives? lead to 3:30 at 107 km, but the feed zone allowed Vasseur and Pinotti to add more than two minutes to their advantage. With 70 km remaining, Quick Step rode tempo for the bunch, which trailed the break by five minutes.
As the race approached the Abbey of Monte Cassino, the scene of a fierce World War II battle between the Germans and the Americans, Fassa Bortolo joined Quick Step at the front. Vasseur?s and Pinotti?s lead was down to 4:15. With 50 km left, their advantage had dropped by another minute.
With 30 km remaining, Davitamon went to the front. The escapees were reeled in, but Trent Wilson (Selle Italia) attacked. The bunch brought him back. La Francaise des Jeux assumed command to set up Cooke.
With 15 km remaining, a crash split the field. The 40 riders in the rear of the field trailed the front of the bunch by 0:15 with 10 km remaining. Davitamon led the peloton into the last four km.
With three km left, Cioni attacked on the Frosinone Alto. Mirko Celestino (Domina Vacanze), Mazzanti, Michele Scarponi (Liberty Seguros), and Cooke followed. Celestino tried to break away from his companions, but he could not do so. With 500 m left, Bettini took the lead, but Cooke closed on the Olympic champion and appeared to be ready to overhaul him with 150 m remaining.
What happened next is in dispute and cast a pall over the stage. Cooke attempted to pass Bettini on the left, against the barriers. Bettini shut the door in front of the Australian, and Bettini?s rear wheel appeared to touch Cooke?s front wheel, causing the La Francaise des Jeux rider to crash. After Cooke crossed the finish line, Bettini attempted to talk with him, but the Australian brushed him off and headed immediately for the race jury. The jury relegated Bettini to fourth place, or last in his group.
For his part, Bettini claimed that he checked twice before moving left against the barriers. He said that he was not at fault. Initially, Bettini declared that he would not continue in the Giro, but he thought better of it. The Italian did, however, take 30 minutes before appearing at the maglia rosa ceremony. When he arrived, Bettini poured his bottle of champagne on the podium instead of gleefully spraying everyone in sight as is the custom.
In the overall, Bettini leads Di Luca by 0:13 and Mazzanti by 0:16. Bettini might still lead the race after Stage 5. The hilly, 223-km ride from Celano to L?Aquila features three climbs, including a 1,300-m finishing ascent. Will the Olympic champion hang on to the maglia rosa? Check in at http://www.roadcycling.com/ and find out!