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A couple of weeks ago Davitamon company boss Marc Coucke was complaining about his big budget's team lack of success so far this season. Since then, whether due to Coucke's blast across their bows or simply a change of fortune, Davitamon-Lotto's riders have seldom been away from the top of the podium, and that run continued on today's first road stage of the Giro d'Italia, which was won by Belgium's favourite Australian, Robbie McEwen, who led the bunch into Chareloi-Marcinelle.
Just 10 days after McEwen set his team back on the winning path with a stage win at the Tour of Romandy, which was followed by similar successes for Chris Horner and Cadel Evans, who added the overall Romandy title for good measure, the livewire Australian celebrated a win that encapsulated just about every aspect of his ability as a top class sprinter.
After four breakaway riders - Gabriele Missaglia (Selle Italia), Mickael Delage (Franaise des Jeux), Be¤at Albizuri (Euskaltel) and Arnaud Labb (Bouygues Telecom) - had been caught with 20km left, Alessandro Petacchi's Milram team gathered themselves at the front of the bunch. The peloton was tightly marshalled as it sped into Charleroi and out towards the suburb Marcinelle to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the mining tragedy at the local pit where 262 miners died, more than half of them Italians.
Milram did all they could to set Petacchi up with an armchair ride to the finish, while there was all kinds of bumping behind them as the Italian's rivals fought for position behind Milram's sprint train. All seemed to be going smoothly as Milram led the charge up the 1.5km rise to the line, riders keeping the pace high and then peeling away until only Alberto Ongarato was left in front of Petacchi, who had McEwen right on his wheel.
But before Ongarato got the chance to rev his leader up to top speed, T-Mobile's Olaf Pollack came through very fast on the right, and instinctively McEwen switched across to take the German's wheel as Petacchi failed to get going. Passing Petacchi meant Pollack left a small gap on his left next to the barriers, and McEwen bravely jumped across into it, before unleashing his final burst that carried him a couple of bike lengths clear by the line.
It was thrilling stuff, especially when seen again from above, a view that underlined how quick McEwen had been at every point of the sprint.
There was no change in the overall standings, with Paolo Savoldelli retaining an 11-second lead over Brad McGee going into tomorrow's stage to the citadel city of Namur, where Petacchi must find a way of keeping the now confident Davitamon team in check.
Stage 2, Mons-Charleroi Marcinelle
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 197 km in 4.51.40 (40.53kph)
2 Olaf Pollack (Ger) T-Mobile
3 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
4 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram
5 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis
6 Tomas Vaitkus (Lit) Ag2r
7 Alberto Loddo (Ita) Selle Italia
8 Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel
9 Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) Panaria
10 Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank
1 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 4.59.30
2 Brad McGee (Aus) Franaise des Jeux 0.11
3 Jos Enrique Gutierrez (Spa) Phonak 0.13
4 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner
5 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) T-Mobile 0.15
6 Francisco Perez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0.16
7 Jos Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
8 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 0.17
9 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.18
10 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 0.19
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