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A very strange day at Tirreno-Adriatico, where Oscar Freire took his first win since March last year and the race lead with it after double stage-winner Paolo Bettini crashed out of the race when blown off his bike in high winds.
Bettini, who won the race's first two stages and was favourite to continue that run today on a stage he's won twice before, went down with five other riders on a descent after 80km. The Italian and CSC (who else at the moment?) rider Lars Bak were taken to hospital in Popoli, where initial x-rays showed that Bettini has not suffered any fractures.
According to his Quick Step team, Bettini suffered abrasions and bruises to his left hand and left hip, his right knee and the right side of his chest. A decision will be taken in the coming days on his appearance in Milan-San Remo, which takes place a week tomorrow.
Back at the race, Jaan Kirsipuu also abandoned after another wind-assisted crash, while Freddy Rodriguez later pulled out as well. At the front of affairs, the Efimkin brothers went clear late on and were joined by 10 more riders on the final climb, with 28km remaining.
The peloton was not too far behind them, though. When Naturino's Luca Ascani made a late effort from the lead break as the bunch closed in, there was little chance of him staying clear, and sure enough he was reeled in with 3km remaining.
On the final uphill run to the line, three-time world champion Freire showed his class after his long absence to outpace compatriot Igor Astarloa, with promising 22-year-old Italian Riccardo Ricco third.
Stage 3, Avezzano-Paglieta
1 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 183km in 4.27.22 (41.07kph)
2 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Barloworld
3 Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval
4 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Acqua e Sapone
5 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
6 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram
7 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
8 Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Panaria
9 Thomas Dekker (Hol) Rabobank
10 Massimiliano Gentili (Ita) Naturino
1 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 12.39.26
2 Ballan 0.10
7 Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Cofidis
8 Jrg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros
9 Michael Boogerd (Hol) Rabobank
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