Young Italian climber Michele Scarponi of the Domina Vacanze team captured the fourth and penultimate stage of the "Settimana Internazionale Coppi&Bartali" (Casalgrande-Pavullo, 156.5 km). The man edged out team-mate Filippo Simeoni by a few metres, and also thanks to the 10-second time bonus he was awarded, is now on the same time as Saeco's Mirko Celestino, who remains in the lead thanks to his better placings.
The 1979-born rider scored the third win so far in his career, after getting his first triumph in a Settimana Lombarda stage (better, half-stage) in 2002 -the year he made his debut in the pro cycling ranks with Acqua & Sapone-Cantina Tollo- and the second in a Tour of Abruzzo leg in the past month of April. But Scarponi might have to wait much less to add a new jewel to his palmares, should he prove able to move ahead of Celestino at the end of tomorrow's final stage of the "Coppi & Bartali International Week"; just like at the recent Tirreno-Adriatico, where Bettini beat Freire by five seconds only, the bonus seconds could prove decisive in determining the final outcome of the event.
Domina Vacanze's great 1-2 in Saturday's leg was the result of an excellent team strategy, as both Scarponi (later) and Simeoni (first, but he was successively joined by his team-mate, and the two made it to the line) went on the attack at Prignano, halfway through the second and final passage over the 15-km. Serramazzoni climb (averaging a gradient of 4 per cent), and made the gap, eventually saving a lead of a few seconds over the bunch, led home by their former team-mate Alberto Ongarato, now riding with the Fassa Bortolo outfit.
"We made the stage tough since the beginning" the winner told the press in post-race interview "(Russia's Alexandr) Kolobnev first and Simeoni later played a fundamental part in my success; I started the fireworks over the last climb, Simeoni already was in the break and, after I caught him, we started a 30-km. Time Trial into the line".
After writing the first page of his 2004 palmares, the 24-year-old from the Marche region of Central Italy is already thinking about his next objectives. That are not limited to tomorrow's stage and the Coppi&Bartali Overall Standings, but go as far as to the upcoming Spring Classics, where Scarponi -who usually gets his best results in this part of the year- could repeat last year's excellent performances (he finished fourth in the 2003 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, doing even better than Lance Armstrong, and managed a seventh place finish at Amstel Gold Race) or more likely go for some better result, as the man's own words suggest: "My condition is improving, I'm happy at today's win, but now I want to get a prestigious success in the Classics of the North".
But first he'll have to go for the gold in Sunday's fifth and final stage of the Italian event, which covers 170 km. between Castellarano and Sassuolo, over a demanding route that encompasses the Montebabbio (km. 2.4; average gradient 10%) ascent, to be tackled twice in the first half of the stage, and the Via Fazzano "wall" (km. 1.9; gradient up to 18-20%) in the outksirts of Sassuolo, that riders will have to climb three times, the last one with less than 10k to go; then a 6km. descent into town comes, and the last 2000 metres on flat roads into the same finish line where, a year ago, Marco Pantani gained his last top 3 placing, as he finished second to Moldova's Ruslan Ivanov (Alessio-Bianchi).
Courtesy GS Emilia.
Stage 4 (Casalgrande-Pavullo, 156.5 km): Top 15 and Others
1. Michele Scarponi (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - 03h57’32" (39.531 kph)
2. Filippo Simeoni (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - s.t.
3. Alberto Ongarato (Ita - Fassa Bortolo) - at 04"
4. Paolo Valoti (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - at 04"
5. Ruggero Marzoli (Ita - Acqua&Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) - at 04".
6. Cristian Moreni (Ita - Alessio-Bianchi) - at 04"
7. Raffaele Illiano (Ita - Colombia-Selle Italia) - at 04"
8. Franco Pellizotti (Ita - Alessio-Bianchi) - at 04"
9. Ivan Fanelli (Ita - Amore & Vita Beretta) - at 04"
10. Bellotti (Ita - Team Barloworld-Androni Giocattoli) - at 04"
11. Giuseppe Muraglia (Ita - Formaggi Pinzolo Fiavè) - at 04"
12. Maurizio Carta (Ita - Miche) - at 04"
13. Simone Masciarelli (Ita - Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie) - at 04"
14. Mirko Celestino (Ita - Saeco) - at 04"
15. Massimiliano Gentili (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - at 04"
16. Andrea Noé (Ita - Alessio-Bianchi) - at 04"
... 30. Pavel Tonkov (Rus - Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie) - at 04"
38. Giuliano Figueras (Ita - Panaria-Margres) - at 04"
44. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) - at 04"
120. Gilberto Simoni (Ita - Saeco) - at 15’25"
Starters 131, Finishers: 124.
GC after Stage 4 - Top 10 and Others
1. Mirko Celestino (Ita - Saeco) - 16h48’13"
2. Michele Scarponi (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - s.t.
3. Giuliano Figueras (Ita - Panaria-Margres) - at 05"
4. Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita - Saeco) - at 10"
5. Andrea Noé (Ita - Alessio-Bianchi) - at 11"
6. Franco Pellizotti (Ita - Alessio-Bianch)
7. Luca Mazzanti (Ita - Panaria-Margres) - at 14"
8. Ruggero Marzoli (Ita - Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) - at 17"
9. Massimiliano Gentili (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - at 23"
10. Kyrylo Pospeyev (Ukr - Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) - at 23"
... 19. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr - Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) - at 01’34"
79. Gilberto Simoni (Ita - Saeco) - at 25’46"