By Gregor Brown and Hernan Alvarez
With his win Wednesday in stage 11, Alessandro Petacchi took his 18th Vuelta a España career win. The win had the added benefit of helping him forget the troubles of the summer, during which he has been the subject of a doping related investigation. Petacchi tested positive for overuse of Salbutamol (an asthma drug) despite having a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) certificate on record.
Coming into Algemesí at the end of the 191km stage, Petacchi rode the wheel of Milram team-mate Erik Zabel. World Champion Paolo Bettini's charge fell short, as the Italian from Quick.Step finished second. Zabel retained enough speed from his lead-out effort to finish third, over André Greipel (T-Mobile) and Carlos Da Cruz (Française Des Jeux).
As he began working out his case with the Italian Olympic Committee, Petacchi did not participate in the Tour, but he's now finding his form in the Vuelta.
"I needed the win," said the exhausted 33 year-old Petacchi. "After the Giro, everyone knows the problems I had. I hope these problems are over soon. It's been a long time, since I didn't race the Tour [de France]. At the beginning of this Vuelta, I found myself in bad form. I felt very exhausted in this Vuelta since the very first day. After yesterday's rest day, today I felt a bit better."
It was Petacchi's first win since stage one of the Regio Tour in August. He won five stages in the Giro d'Italia in May.
"Today, my team did a great job. From the start of the Vuelta all my team-mates wanted me to win; they worked hard all day long, and I achieved the victory," said Petacchi.
Rabobank led Denis Menchov safely through the stage to keep his overall lead of one minute over Russian compatriot Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) and Australian Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto).
Meanwhile Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval - Prodir) takes over the lead in the mountains classification after his ride Wednesday. He was part of the first group up the Alto de la Chirivilla and earned enough points to jump ahead of overalll leader Denis Menchov (Rabobank) in the mountains classification.
"Of course I'm happy to wear the KOM jersey," Piepoli said after crossing the finish line. "Leading the mountains classification in a Grand Tour is a beautiful thing, and it could be my goal for the rest of the race. But I'm not thinking about this. I prefer to take one day at a time and see how things unfold."
Thursday's stage 12 will cover 176 flat kilometers from Algemesí to Hellín.