Cycling: Simoni captures pink jersey

Gilberto Simoni, the defending champion, won the third stage of the Giro d'Italia and captured the pink jersey of race leader with a solo finish yesterday in the first uphill leg of the three-week marathon.

Gilberto Simoni, the defending champion, won the third stage of the Giro d'Italia and captured the pink jersey of race leader with a solo finish yesterday in the first uphill leg of the three-week marathon.

Simoni, who is aiming for his third Tour of Italy title in four years, broke away two miles from the finish 4,700 feet above sea level in the Apennines mountains. He beat his Saeco teammate Damiano Cunego by 15 seconds and the third-placed Franco Pellizotti by 16. Simoni snatched the pink jersey from the Australian rider Bradley McGee, who slipped behind in the toughest section of the final climb. "It was a great team showing, but of course the Giro does not end today," Simoni said. "You must pile up a five-minute lead to win this race and the tough stages still are far ahead."

Saeco cyclists made the pace in the final miles helping a joint attack by Simoni and Cunego. Cunego, a 22-year-old rising star who won the second stage on Monday, could not keep up with his captain's pace in the finale but still showed impressive form.

Stefano Garzelli, considered Simoni's toughest rival for the overall classification, ended 35 seconds behind the winner. "Gilberto was impressive today, he proved really strong, but it's a long way to the end of the Giro," he said. Overall, Simoni led Cunego and the Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych. The winner completed the 118-mile run here from Pontemoli in 5hr 46min 9sec.

Today's fourth stage, an almost flat course from Porretta Terme to Civitella Val di Chiana, was expected to offer a chance to the top sprinters - Alessandro Petacchi, Mario Cipollini and Robbie McEwen.

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