They were among the red hot favourites, and they didn't disappoint: Roman Kreuziger of the Czech Republic and his Slovak neighbour Peter Velits started to show their talent and class and stamped their authority in the toughest stage of this early part of the 30th Giro delle Regioni, a 159-km. journey from Roccaravindola to Macchiagodena on the hills of the Molise region, with an undulating parcours and the first uphill finish of the event, whose finishing line was located at an altitude of 864m asl.
Thursday's stage saw a flurry of attacks go since its early part, with boys from many of the 19 national teams racing Italy's #1 event for Under 23 riders as protagonists. First came a three-man breakaway featuring Russian Pavel Kochetkov and Alexey Esin, and Alexandr Dymovskikh of Kazakhstan. Esin lost contact to the two other escapees, but soon later also Kochetkov and Dymovskikh were chased down.
Then came the turn of Matthew Goss to make the headlines for Australia, in a stage whose course didn't suit the skills of most contenders from OZ (albeit in-form Simon Clarke was going to finish a decent 15th). The Aussie launched an attack along with Paul Brousse of France, even if later on the French sped off on his own and stayed away solo until he was picked up and dropped by Dutch youngster Thomas van Dulmen. But all these moves led to nothing, apart from some brief TV exposure (which is always a good thing anyway). And at the foot of the final ascent to Macchiagodena close to all main riders (but neither Italy's Fabio Sabatini nor stage one winner Benoit Sinner, neither of whom is a good climber) were at the front.
That's where and when - with about 4 km. remaining - Kreuziger and Peter Velits (whose brother Martin is also riding the Giro, though not in such a successful way) made their move. It was the Czech who started the fireworks as the road was tilting upwards, and Velits followed his move. Overall leader Luigi Sestili was the quickest in trying to counter, but after he realized how fast the flying Czech-Slovak pair was going, he decided to ride at his own pace to the line, with a limited waste of time as his goal. Not that Sestili's pace was that slow anyway, 'cause even if he couldn't close down the gap to the frontunners, the Italian succeeded in dropping all other chasers and overall competitors previously with him, from Holland's Gesnik and Czech cyclo-cross superstar Zdenek Stybar to the (perhaps) mighty Belarusian duo of Andrei Kunitski and Branislau Samoilau.
Kreuziger and Velits continued their march, with the Czech teen-ager, clearly in a better condition, doing most of the work up front. Roman Kreuziger - usually racing for the Italy-based team Italfine - showed better legs also in the closing metres, as he attacked his breakaway mate and managed to open a small gap of two seconds. The man took line honors, with the Slovak in second place, but failed to take the overall leadership: Sestili limited his losses to a mere 16 seconds, and - with a little help from the lack of any time bonuses awarded to the top finishers - still kept an advantage of 26" over Kreuziger, with Peter Velits obviously a further two seconds adrift on GC.
But starting from tomorrow's 140-km. leg from Ortona to Chieti, a stage with another uphill finish, the yellow-and-red-jersey wearing Italian should keep an even closer eye on both his two closest challengers. And Roman Kreuziger in particular: the son of a former professional rider (his father, also named Roman, won the World Cyclocross title in Birmigham back in the days of 1983), this Czech hopeful - and high school student - showed his skills when still a Junior at the past World Champs in Verona (Kreuziger was gold medalist in the Junior Men's Road Race and took the silver in the ITT this past October) and looks well-determined to stamp his authority on the Under 23 scene too, before moving to what is going to be his first team as a professional rider: Liquigas-Bianchi.
Stage 3 (Roccaravindola-Macchiagodena, 159 km): Top 10 & More
1. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic) - 04h30'56'' (35.211 kph)
2. Peter Velits (Slovakia) - at 02"
3. Luigi Sestili (Italy) - at 16"
4. Eduardo Gonzalo Ramírez (Spain) - at 19"
5. Andrei Kunitski (Belarus) - at 22"
6. Robert Gesink (Holland) - at 25"
7. Branislau Samoilau (Belarus) - at 30"
8. Markus Eibegger (Austria) - at 32"
9. Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) - at 34"
10. Peter Jacobs (Belgium)
15. Simon Clarke (Australia) - at 01'03"
22. Riccardo Riccò (Italy) - at 01'12"
38. Eros Capecchi (Italy) - at 02'41"
39. Fabio Sabatini (Italy) - at 02'42"
41. Christopher Sutton (Australia) - at 03'31"
45. Mathew Goss (Australia) - at 10'01"
50. Nicholas Sanderson (Australia) - at 16'04"
54. Benoit Sinner (France) - at 22'54"
58. Emanuele Rizza (Italy) - at 22'57''
88. James Meadley (Australia) - at 27'02"
60th Giro delle Regioni - GC after Stage 3: Top 10 & selected Riders
1. Luigi Sestili (Italy) - 10h32'26" (38.347 kph)
2. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic) - at 24"
3. Peter Velits (Slovakia) - at 26"
4. Eduardo Gonzalo Ramírez (Spain) - at 43"
5. Andrei Kunitski (Belarus) - at 46"
6. Robert Gesink (Holland) - at 49"
7. Markus Eibegger (Austria) - at 56''
8. Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) - at 58"
9. Peeter Jacobs (Belgium) - at 58"
10. Michael Muck (Germany) - at 58"
14. Simon Clarke (Australia) - at 01'27"
19. Riccardo Riccò (Italy) - at 01'36"
31. Eros Capecchi (Italy) - at 03'05"
32. Fabio Sabatini (Italy) - at 03'06"
33. Branislau Samoilau (Belarus) - at 03'23"
39. Christopher Sutton (Australia) - at 10'52"
47. Mathew Goss (Australia) - at 19'11"
58. Nicholas Sanderson (Australia) - at 31'18"
70. James Meadley (Australia) - at 36'12"
72. Emanuele Rizza (Italy) - at 38'11"