Down Under 6: final stage to Francesco Chicchi

Allan Davis claims overall victory

Australian sprinter Allan Davis won the Tour Down Under on Sunday as American Lance Armstrong finished well in his much-anticipated return to professional cycling.

Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who used the race as his comeback after a three-and-a-half year hiatus from the sport, came in a respectable 29th overall, 49secs behind the winner Davis of Quick Step.

Italian Francesco Chicchi handed his Liquigas team its first notable victory of the year by winning the final stage after bursting through a quality field containing Australian rivals Robbie McEwen and Graeme Brown.

But Davis - protected by a committed team - did enough throughout the 90km final stage, held on a 4.5km circuit, to protect his overnight lead of 25secs on former two-time champion Stuart O'Grady of Saxo Bank.

O'Grady, the winner in 1999 and 2001, finished second overall, with Spaniard Jose Rojas of Caisse d'Epargne third at 30sec.

"I've finally done it, I can't believe it," said Davis, who had come here with the modest ambition of winning a stage or two but survived a difficult penultimate stage to reinforce his grip on the ochre jersey.

"We just had to protect the jersey here today. I'd like to thank Quick Step and my team again. It's been an amazing week."

The 28-year-old becomes the sixth Australian to win the race, whose 11th edition prompted a huge wave of support across southern Australia - and worldwide interest - due to the presence of Armstrong.

The American gave fans reason to cheer Sunday by attacking the main peloton on the second last of the race's 18 laps, quickly closing the gap to a small group of riders that had originally been part of an earlier 13-man breakaway.

The 37-year-old Armstrong's move was great for television but only forced the chasing peloton to counter-attack and catch the frontrunners quicker than anticipated.

On the final lap he dropped back into the relative safety of the group before the bunch sprint on a slight uphill leading to the finish line.

"I felt pretty good today so I thought I'd give it a go, I just didn't have the firepower to keep it going," said Armstrong, who battled cancer in 1996-1998 before embarking on his seven-year yellow jersey reign in France.

"That's the best I've felt all week - when you feel good and have good legs you go for it."

Davis, having won three stages already, decided not to join in the bunch sprint at the finish.

In the closing metres Brown appeared to infringe the rules by veering off his line, and then disaster struck when one of his shoes unclipped metres from the finish.

Chicchi started his drive late, but timed it to perfection to come through the middle and snatch victory on the line.

"I'm happy but I had hoped to win more stages here. Maybe I suffered a little bit from the distance, and getting used to the temperatures," said Chicchi.

Katusha sprinter McEwen finished second in the final stage, with Brown, who rides for Rabobank, taking third place. The 36-year-old McEwen's week finished on a sour note, following his win in the showpiece inner city criterium over 50km two days prior to the race.

After sustaining an arm injury when hit by an overzealous spectator's camera, and then just missing out on another stage win, the Aussie was left frustrated with Brown's tactics.

"It's disappointing," said McEwen. "The judges will look at what Browny did and how he went off his line. He still only finished third - I still beat him - but it enabled Chicchi to come up through the inside.

"Had Browny not done that neither of us would have lost momentum, and certainly Chicchi wouldn't have passed and I would have won the stage."

Brown, who was not sanctioned, countered: "This is just Robbie complaining because he didn't win the stage. In the end neither of us did, but he hit me first.

"If what he says about my riding style is true, why isn't it in the commissaire's report?"

© AFP 2009

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