Talented young Italian Riccardo Ricco of the Saunier Duval team took his second consecutive stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico on Saturday and also took the overall race lead.
The 23 year-old climber won in Offagna, near the Adriatic coast with another powerful attack on the uphill finish. He opened a gap on the peloton and then held off a strong chase in the final kilometre. Germany?s Stefan Schumacher finished four seconds behind Ricco and Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan was third in the same time.
It was Ricco?s second consecutive stage victory after winning the third stage from Marsciano to Macerata on Friday and he also took the race leader?s red and yellow jersey from Russia?s Alexandr Arekeev. Ricco leads Vinokourov by 16 seconds, with Schumacher at 20 seconds.
?I?m in great form and I think I showed I?m the strongest on uphill finishes like this,? Ricco said with natural confidence.
?On Friday I attacked a bit early and suffered before the finish; this time I followed Andreas Kloden and then when I saw him struggling with about seven hundred metres to go I went myself and opened a good gap.?
Ricco said he will try and defend the overall race lead in Sunday?s 20.5-km individual time trial from Civitanova Marche to Civitanova Alta, and is confident of winning the weeklong stage race.
?It?s great to be the race leader and I?d love to keep the leader?s jersey until the end of the race in San Benedetto del Tronto on Tuesday,? he said.
?I?m not an expert time trialist but I?ll try and limit my losses. Alexandre Vinokourov is my biggest rival because he can time trial very well and looks on form, but I know I have a chance of pulling some time back on Monday?s uphill finish to San Giacomo.?
Current world champion Paolo Bettini of Italy was involved in a crash five kilometres from the end of the stage as the peloton took a left turn. Bettini was taken out by another rider and hit a road sign, hurting his left shoulder and left knee. The Quick Step rider finished the stage several minutes down and went to hospital for x-rays.
Ivan Basso hurt his wrist on Friday in a crash and retired after 36 kilometres of Saturday?s stage. He climbed in the Discovery Channel team, telling Italian television he did not want to risk further injuries. Basso is expected to miss next Saturday?s Milan-San Remo classic and will probably be back in action in the Castilla y Leon stage race in Spain at the end of the month.