The second longest stage of the Giro, from Esch Sur Alzette/Strasbourg and covering 210kms was going to be another sprinter delight. And the gruppo didn't dissapoint, but we had to wait until the last 35kms to see some real action. In such a long stage, the riders stayed together until around 117kms into the race when Dimitry Konyshev (Fassa Bortolo) and Daniele Contrini (Gerolsteiner) decided to put on an attack. The vigilant pack didn't let them get out of sight and their lead grew to only 1'33" at one point, but their effort didn't look to be 100%.
With around 25kms from the finish, the pack started to pick up steam and a crash occured towards the end of the field, with Francesco Secchiari (Mercatone Uno) being the last rider to get up, a little sored, but in one piece. Others involved in the pavement encounter were Lampre's main man, Pavel Tonkov and the "head zebra" Mario Scirea.
Telekom seemed to have a handle on things today and Hondo had the entire team pulling hard with 8kms to go, but they soon ran out of power and were overtaken by the ever present "Zebra Express" lead by none other that Mario Scirea, who had reintegrated the pack after some serious chasing.
From the helicopter it was easy to spot the fighting for position between the sprinters, with Ivan Quaranta (Index Alexia) throwing some good punches to an "unidentified" Lotto rider.
At 2kms to go, it was clear that Cipo and his zebras were going for their 3rd victory in the race, but Aussie Robbie McEwen (Lotto) had different ideas and decided to put a stop on the zebra parade. Lombardi lunched Cipo with 400m to go and he seemed to had a little trouble pulling the big gear around and that gave McEwen the chance to barely take him on the line with one last throw of the bike.
During the post race interviews, Cipo didn't hesitate to once again thank his teammates for a job well done, despite coming in second. And Quaranta, who was still a bit hot after all the "punch throwing" festivites said that "Cipollini needs to teach his guys how to race", but it seemed like the "leopardo" himself was the rider spotted sitting up with only 200m to go before the line.
Another exciting sprint and the last one for a while, since the Giro will take their first day off tomorrow before entering home soil and the first randevouz with the mountains is scheduled for Friday. Expect the GC guys who have taken a back seat to come to the front and show their stuff.
DP will bring you all the action of Stage 5, next Friday.