Tafi's great break closes Cup gap

Cycling

The Italians came to the British round of the World Cup with great expectations, and Andrea Tafi did not disappoint his countrymen who have taken the honours for six of the past eight years.

As the 242-kilometre race through Kent wound down to three testing circuits in the centre of Rochester, which inspired several of Charles Dickens' works, Tafi too found inspiration.

With 15km remaining, he forced the pace once more to shake off his four co-leaders, and ride away to win by 43 seconds and turn himself into a Cup challenger. He closed to within 35 points of the series leader, Rolf Sorensen of Denmark, and with three rounds to be decided is on course for his best season.

"I am looking forward to the next round in Zurich on Sunday. It will be hard but my form is good," Tafi said. "I did not have a good start to the year, but my team kept faith with me.

"When I heard that the pursuers were only 25 seconds behind us I attacked to maintain our lead, but I saved my best move for later. My biggest fear was [Gianluca] Bortolami. He has such great form," he said, but after one attempt at resisting Tafi, Bortolami conceded to the stronger man.

Tafi's best result until Rochester was last year's victory in another Cup counter, the Tour of Lombardy. This year he took second place in the Dutch round behind the 1996 Tour de France winner, Bjarne Riis, and with more points in Spain last week followed by a maximum of 100 yesterday, Tafi lifted the Cup gloom from his Mapei team.

The quest of his Belgian team-mate, Johan Museeuw, to score a World Cup hat-trick slumped when the world champion failed to score in three previous rounds. Yesterday he was among the non-finishers, and so too was the British hope Chris Boardman, again the victim of a fall as the field pursued Tafi and his men.

Boardman changed his damaged bike for a spare, but pulled out on the finishing circuit, complaining of a painful back. He had to quit last month's Tour de France after displacing two vertebrae, an injury from which he had almost recovered.

Max Sciandri kept the home flag flying with a solo chase that earned him sixth place and was only six seconds short of capturing the remnants of Tafi's co-leaders as they raced along the banks of the Medway.

"When my team told me that Tafi had gone away on his own, then I was able to attack," he said. Sciandri had been handicapped because his French team-mate, Stephane Heulot, was with the leaders.

"I gave it all I had, but it was too late," said the Olympic bronze medallist who has a reputation to maintain in the British round. He won in 1995 when it was in Leeds, and last year was second there, a placing rated as a failure.

He failed to respond when Andrea Ferrigato "jumped" in sight of the finish. Yesterday the Derby-born, Italian-based member of a French team wiped away that bitter memory.

Ferrigato had to fight for second place with fellow Italian Bortolami, the World Cup winner three years ago, after they - with Tafi, Heulot, and Italy's Andrea Vatteroni - had escaped from the pack more than 70km from the finish.

Sorensen was content with his day's work as 13th place helped boost his lead over the Italian Michele Bartoli to 29 points. Bartoli finished out of the scoring yesterday for the second time in two rounds.

ROCHESTER CLASSIC (151.25 miles): 1 A Tafi (Mapei-GB, Ita) 6hr 7min 42sec; 2 A Ferrigato (Roslotto-ZG, It) +43sec; 3 G Bortolami (Festina, It), 4 S Heulot (La Francaise des Jeux, Fr); 5 A Vatteroni (Scrigno-Gaerne, It) all same time; 6 M Sciandri (La Francaise des Jeux, GB) +49sec. Overall World Cup standings: 1 R Sorensen (Rabobank, Den) 225pts; 2 M Bartoli (MG, It) 196; 3 A Tafi 190; 4 B Zberg (Mercatone Uno, Swit) 120; 5 L Jalabert (ONCE, Fr) 114; 6 M Sciandri 113.

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