7/25/2012 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!

Nizzolo wins 2012 Tour de Wallonie

Napolitano sprints to third stage victory


Danilo Napolitano (Acqua & Sapone) sprinted to victory in the final stage of the Tour de Wallonie, the Italian's third win of the Tour, while Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan) hung on to win the general classification by the slimmest of margins in a battle for the yellow jersey which was undecided until the very end.

Gianni Meersman (Lotto Belisol), who photo finish cameras confirmed crossed the line a narrow second to Napolitano, actually raised his hands in victory thinking he'd won both the stage plus general classification on time bonuses, but the Belgian would be forced to accept second place on both accounts. Davide Appollonio (Sky) rounded out the top three on the stage.

Nizzolo finished sixth in the sprint to the finish, missing the bonus seconds for the top three finishers, but nonetheless claimed overall victory by one second ahead of Meersman. Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM), who started the stage in second place just one second behind Nizzolo, failed to earn any time bonuses on the day resulting in a third place overall finish at two seconds.

"I'm very happy with the win," said Nizzolo. "It shows that all the training has paid of. When Daniele [Bennati] had to pull out of the race, I was allowed to sprint for myself and I'm happy I can pay back the trust that the team has given me.

"It wasn't easy to defend the jersey with such a short lead. We had three intermediate sprints with bonification seconds and it was to be expected that the fight for the overall win would be on until the finish line.

"Jakob [Fuglsang] brought me up to the 1km mark, while Ben [Hermans] and Matthew [Busche] kept on keeping the pace very high. I managed to position myself well, behind Napolitano, but probably I went a bit too early for the legs that I had. Too bad, but the overall victory was the most important thing today."

Nizzolo had moved into the yellow jersey after the Tour de Wallonie's queen stage on Monday, but entering today's 179.2km finale from Welkenraedt to Perwez the next five riders on general classification were all within 12 seconds of the RadioShack-Nissan rider. Second-placed Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM) trailed by only one second while Mikhail Ignatyev (Katusha) held third at two seconds back. Fourth place overall was held by Gianni Meersman at eight seconds.

Time bonuses would prove critical as five, three and one-second bonuses were offered at each of the stage's intermediate sprints, while 10, six and four-second bonuses would be earned by the top-three stage finishers.

While attacks were launched from the start of the stage, the teams of the general classification contenders kept the peloton together through the first intermediate sprint in Theux at 33.8km. Katusha's Alexander Porsev crossed the line first, followed by Meersman and Nizzolo.

Factoring in the time bonuses, Nizzolo now led Ligthart and Ignatyev by two and three seconds respectively on general classification, but Meersman, who started the day fourth overall at eight seconds, narrowed his deficit by one second to a seven-second margin.

None of the overall contenders earned time bonuses at the stage's second sprint at 71.3km and riders continued to launch attacks in hope of forming a breakaway. It wasn't until 83km had been covered on the rolling terrain that a successful move finally escaped the peloton's clutches, containing Julien Berard (AG2R La Mondiale), Maxime Anciaux (Idemasport-Biowanze) and Pieter Jacobs (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator).

While Berard and Anciaux were well down on general classification and not overall threats, Jacobs started the stage just 15 seconds behind Nizzolo and could potentially be a general classification threat if the break wasn't eventually neutralised.

As the peloton backed off the throttle after a briskly-paced opening two hours of racing, the break's lead steadily increased and ultimately grew to 4:30 with 75km to go.

After the momentary lull in the peloton, their chase efforts quickly cut into the break's lead and inside of 50km remaining the trio's advantage now stood at 1:20.

Jacobs, the GC danger man in the break, was soon dropped from the lead group after the trio swept up all the time bonuses at the third intermediate sprint. Inside of 35km remaining Berard dispatched of Anciaux and soon only the AG2R rider remained off the front.

Berard received some help as Wallonie Bruxelles-Credit Agricole teammates Boris Dron and Laurent Evrard attacked the peloton and bridged to the AG2R rider, but their bid for stage glory came to a conclusion with 10 kilometres remaining as the peloton ramped up the pace in anticipation of a field sprint finale.

RadioShack-Nissan, Vacansoleil-DCM and Lotto Belisol all were prominent at the front of the peloton trying to position their respective GC contenders for crucial bonus seconds at the finish line, but Danilo Napolitano proved too fast once again and claimed his third stage victory in four days of racing at the Tour de Wallonie.

Gianni Meersman finished a narrow second, but actually thought he had won and raised his hands in delight. The winner's 10-second time bonus would have given the GC victory to the Belgian as well, but instead the second place stage finish gave Meersman a six-second bonus leaving him one second shy of Nizzolo's overall time.

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In addition to winning overall, Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan) won the young riders classification.
Photo: © Isabelle Duchesne

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