Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) confirmed that he is one of the strongest and most aggressive riders in the Giro d?Italia by winning the seventh stage to Tivoli, near Rome.

Ricco beat world champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) on the uphill finish. Ricco lead out the sprint but Bettini could not get round him. As he crossed the line Ricco hardly seemed to be breathing as Bettini?s face was a mask of pain.

Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) finished in the same time as Ricco and kept the pink jersey. He gained 25 seconds on his closest rival Matthias Russ (Gerolsteiner) and so now leads by 34 seconds.

Ricco gained 20 precious seconds thanks to the stage winner?s time bonus and is now fifth overall. He is 7-33 behind Visconti but is now only six seconds behind Danilo Di Luca (LPR). He leads Alberto Contador (Astana) by 23 seconds, Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) by 38 seconds and Andreas Kloden (Astana) by 1-04.

?This shows I?m going well,? Ricco said, more confident than ever after his win.

?I wasn?t going to go for the win today but my directeur sportif Pietro Algeri convinced me the finish suited me and so my team worked to catch the break of the day. I?ve now earned 40 seconds thanks to my two stage wins and that?s a good advantage to have before Tuesday?s time trial.?

?It was a hard stage because we started really fast and there were a lot of attacks just like in the Tour de France.?

?I was still feeling the efforts of yesterday?s stage but I?ve got a strong team and I had to go for the win after they worked so hard to bring the early break back. Do you see the work Leonardo Piepoli did on the climb??

CLASH WITH KLODEN

Andreas Kloden dismissed Ricco?s chance of overall victory in the Giro during an interview on Italian television before Saturday?s stage.

Ricco quickly responded by pointing out that the climbs at the Giro are much tougher than those at the Tour de France and predicted Kloden would be the big loser.

?I hope to change Kloden?s mind pretty soon,? Ricco said.

?He?s very strong in the time trials but I think he?s pretty weak on the steep climbs in the mountains. He?ll gain several minutes on me in the time trial but I?m convinced I?ll put them back in the mountains.?

True to nature Ricco also had a go at Alberto Contador when a journalist told him Contador has offered to show him the full body suntan he got while on holiday before getting the late invitation to ride the Giro d?Italia.

?Yeah, right,? he said, still not believing Contador did not know about Astana getting in the Giro.

?I?ve also got ready for the Giro by going to the beach in Rimini but that?s because I live there!?

BETTINI?S LOCAL FINISH

World champion Paolo Bettini is still looking for his first win at this year?s Giro and his first win of the year. He was not happy that Ricco beat him today but will be downright miserable if he does not win in San Vincenzo on Sunday.

The 218km stage ends just a few kilometres from his home in Bibbona and the Giro organisers have added a short climb near the finish to help get rid of a few sprinters.

Bettini and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) are hoping Mark Cavendish (High Road) will be dropped on the climb but the young Brit is looking for his second stage win on Bettini?s patch.

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008 STAGE EIGHT: RESULTS

1. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval 209km in 4hours 41min 5secs

2. Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step

3. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner

4. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas

5. Daniele Pietropolli (Ita) LPR all same time.

OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE EIGHT

1. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Quick Step in 36hours 44mins 6secs

2. Matthias Russ (Ger) Gerolsteiner at 34secs

3. Gabriele Bosisio (Ita) LPR at 5min 53secs

4. Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR at 7min 27secs

5. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval at 7min 33secs

6. Emanuele Sella (Ita) Caisse D’Epargne at 7min 36secs

7. Felix Rafael Cardenas (Col) Barloworld at 7min 46secs

8. Alberto Contador (Esp) Astana at 7min 56secs

9. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas at 8min 11secs

10. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 8min 19secs

imageAdam Hansen goes solo during stage eight

imagePeloton on stage eight

imageDaniele Nardello leapt from the bunch to reach the break

imageRace leader Giovanni Visconti held on to his position at the top of the overall classification

imageRiccardo Ricco underlined his amazing form by taking the stage, and moved up to fifth overall

Photos by Graham Watson

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage seven: Di Luca, Ricco and Contador gain time on rivals

Stage six: Italians clean up

Stage five: Millar denied by snapped chain

Stage four: Cavendish wins

Stage three: Bennati romps home

Stage two: Ricco wins Giro d’Italia second stage

Stage one TTT: Slipstream wins Giro team time trial

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: NEWS

Aggressive Cummings comes away empty handed [stage six]

Millar speaks out after missing out in Giro [stage five]

Reaction to Cavendish’s Giro stage win

Cav hits back at Pozzato’s snipe

Cavendish: This is my biggest win [stage four]

Millar celebrates Slipstream Giro d’Italia success

Bettini looking for final Giro glory

Astana’s troubled build-up to the Giro

Petacchi banned for Salbutamol positive

Yates and Astana make last minute rush to Giro

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: PHOTOS

Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery. New photos added daily

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: FEATURES

Giro Britannia part two: From rule Britannia to cruel Britannia

Tuesday Comment (May 13): Why Cavendish is a bona fide world-class star

Giro Britannia: how the Brits are doing in Italy

Giro d’Italia 2008 preview

Giro d’Italia 2008: who will win?

Giro d’Italia 2008: The British are coming

Giro d’Italia on Eurosport: TV schedule