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Italy?s Riccardo Ricco of the Saunier Duval team won the third stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico on Friday with an impressive late attack on the climb to the finish in the centre of Macerata.

The 23 year-old suffered as the bunch tried to close the gap in the finishing straight but he hung on to win by two seconds ahead Astana duo Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Kloden.

Stage two winner Alexandr Arekeev finished out of the leading positions but kept the overall race lead. Ricco is now second at 21 seconds and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is third at 27 seconds.

Ricco is considered one of the most talented Italian climbers of his generation but struggled to find a professional team in 2005 after failing several haematocrit tests. After detailed tests he proved he has a naturally high haematocrit he turned professional with Saunier Duval in 2006. He won a stage in the early season Vuelta San Luis stage race in Argentina and won the Japan Cup race at the end of the 2006 season.

?I rode well at the Milan-Turin race last Saturday and knew that this uphill finish suited me,? Ricco said.

?I went a bit early and took a risk but I felt good and it paid off. I showed I had that little bit extra and it?s great to have won. My team mates protected me during the whole stage and helped me stay near the front before the start of the climb up to the finish. When the climb started I took over and did the rest.?

Despite good weather conditions the stage was marred by several crashes. World champion Paolo Bettini of Italy hurt two fingers after being hit by a bike, while compatriot Ivan Basso injured his left wrist. Fortunately for the 2006 Giro d?Italia winner, x-rays taken after the race showed he had no broken bones but he may still quit Tirreno-Adriatico to avoid risking further problems.

Saturday?s 161-km fourth stage is from Pievebovigliana to Offagna near Ancona and ends with another short uphill finish.

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