Cooke floored by Bettini's quick step and sidekick

Another dramatic day at the Giro ends with race leader Paolo Bettini relegated to fourth place after

Another dramatic day at the Giro ends with race leader Paolo Bettini relegated to fourth place after

For the first four days of the Giro, Australian and Italian riders have passed stage wins back and forth between them - Lancaster to Bettini, Bettini to McEwen, McEwen to Di Luca, Di Luca to. well, it should have been Baden Cooke.

Enjoying his best form for some considerable time, the Francaise des Jeux rider was the only foreigner to get into a small group that sneaked away over the top of the final climb up to Frosinone's old town, from where the route dropped 2km through a series of tight switchbacks onto the finishing straight, where race leader Bettini led out the sprint. Cooke was right on his wheel, with Luca Mazzanti, Michele Scarponi, Mirko Celestino and Dario Cioni tailing the Australian.

But when Bettini accelerated, Cooke was the only one able to stay in touch. The Australian tracked the Italian down the centre of the finishing straight, and 150 metres from the line started to move up quickly on Bettini's left. The Quick Step rider drifted left as Cooke started to come up to him, then a bit more left, and finally switched so far to the left that Cooke's was forced into the barriers.

As Bettini straightened and made for the line to take a clear win, the hoarding Cooke had hit with huge force billowed across the straight, almost taking out the chasing Mazzanti and Cioni. As the hoarding settled, Cooke emerged from the wreckage of bike, barrier and advert and began striding towards the finish. It was impossible to make out his emotions with his sunglasses somehow still in place, but safe to say Cooke must have been more than just a little bit unhappy.

As riders continued to sprint by the Australian into the finish, Bettini had circled back towards the line, followed by a media mob and intent it seemed on patching things up with Cooke. Not too surprisingly, Cooke ignored Bettini's attempts at a handshake and reconciliation - twice. He simply strode on, showing no emotion at all, but no doubt feeling plenty.

Within five minutes, the judges had relegated Bettini to fourth place and Mazzanti to first. Justice of a sort, but little consolation to Cooke, who looked odds on to beat Bettini to the line for a Giro debut stage win. To rub salt into the as yet unknown wounds that the Australian may have suffered, he was awarded 191st and last place on the stage, but in the same time as the winner - rough justice to be placed 187 places below the rider who's sinned against you, and whatever regulation the race commissaires have applied here needs to be looked at again.

It was a sad end to what had been another exciting day. Marco Pinotti and Cdric Vasseur had spent most of the day away. Just as they were about to be caught Australian Trent Wilson tried to get clear, but the control applied by Francaise des Jeux, Quick Step and Fassa Bortolo was total until the race reached that last hill.

Aitor Gonzalez almost got clear here, only to be overhauled by Bettini and Emmanuele Sella, who were themselves passed by mountains leader Cioni just before reaching the start of the drop into the finish, where six riders got clear.

A pack of 40-odd riders came in six seconds down on stage winner Mazzanti, led in by Filippo Pozzato. Most of the big names were there, but Discovery Channel's Paolo Savoldelli missed the move and finished 43 seconds down. The 12 and eight seconds that Cioni and Scarponi received respectively bumped them a few places up the standings.

Tomorrow's stage runs 223km from Celano to L'Aquila, where there is a short but difficult uphill finish. Bettini and Danilo Di Luca both fancy their chances, and there's sure to be an Aussie in there somewhere.

Stage 4, Giffoni Valle Piana-Frosinone

1 Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Ceramica Panaria-Navigare 220km in 5.10.09 (42.56kph)
2 Dario Cioni (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi
3 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Liberty Seguros
4 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
5 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Domina Vacanze 0.02
6 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step 0.04
7 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile
8 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi
9 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
10 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Quick Step
11 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Caffita
12 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis
13 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi
14 Julian Dean (NZ) Crdit Agricole

88 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 0.51
111 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Crdit Agricole 1.31
174 Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas-Bianchi 6.10
191 Baden Cooke (Aus) Francaise des Jeux 0.00

Overall

1 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic 20.19.44
2 Di Luca 0.13
3 Mazzanti 0.16
4 Cioni 0.19
5 Cunego 0.21
6 Garzelli 0.27
7 Scarponi 0.32
8 Mauricio Ardila (Col) Davitamon-Lotto 0.36
9 Celestino 0.37
10 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Lampre-Caffita
11 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) Domina Vacanze
12 Ivan Basso (Ita) CSC 0.40
13 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel

35 Cooke 1.31
56 Danielson 1.53
117 Wiggins 8.08
136 Wegelius 9.56

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