Kittel sprints to 2nd straight stage win in Giro

DUBLIN (AP) Marcel Kittel sprinted to a second straight stage victory in a wet third leg of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, while Michael Matthews retained the overall leader’s pink jersey.

Kittel looked to have left it too late on his 26th birthday after losing contact with his rivals inside the final kilometer. But the German cyclist came from behind to edge out Ben Swift on the line and deny the Briton a maiden Grand Tour stage victory. Kittel finished in 4 hours, 28 minutes, 43 seconds.

”It was close,” Kittel said. ”I really was surprised. I was really far back, but I thought `don’t give up, maybe you can do something’. So at the corner I just sprinted all out and I’m very, very happy.”

Elia Viviani was third in a bunch sprint at the end of the 187-kilometer (116-mile) cross-border leg from Armagh to Dublin.

Matthews – whose Orica-GreenEdge team won Friday’s opening time trial – will lead the race back to Italy and the Australian has an eight-second advantage over Italian cyclist Alessandro Petacchi.

”On a flat sprint, (Kittel) is unbeatable,” Matthews said. ”In the hillier terrain, he will lose some of his top-end speed, but with the leadout he has in these flat stages he’s pretty unbeatable at the moment.

”It was incredible today. I got to wear my pink jersey, and the crowds made it even better … I’m so happy I get to wear it in Italy on Tuesday.”

Rain fell intermittently for most of the day and wet roads caused several crashes, including two large ones, but all the riders were able to continue. Former winner Michele Scarponi was one of the riders caught up in a large crash around 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the finish.

Several cyclists also suffered technical problems and Swift briefly dropped off the back of the peloton when he had to change his bike with 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) to go.

Maarten Tjallingii, who is still wearing the blue King of the Mountains jersey, led for most of the stage for the second day in a row. He was part of an early breakaway of five riders, along with Yonder Godoy, Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez, Gert Dockx and Giorgio Cecchinel.

They had a lead of six minutes before the peloton started reeling them in with more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) remaining.

Their advantage briefly increased as the peloton slowed to wait for riders involved in the major crashes to catch up, but the group was back together with more than seven kilometers (4 miles) remaining after a brief solo escape from Cecchinel.

After three wet days in Northern Ireland and Ireland, the Giro takes a rest day on Monday as it travels back to Italy.

The race resumes with another mainly flat stage, which should again end in a bunch sprint in Bari.

The Giro ends in Trieste on June 1.