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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) wins
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) has won the fourth stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in a bunch sprint, beating Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner). Sanchez maintained the leadership of the race, with two stages to come, including Saturday's decisive time trial. It was a payback for Freire, who was only narrowly beaten in stage 1 by Alejandro Valverde.
The fourth stage started in Lerín with 163 riders in 14 degree Celsius conditions. Aitor Osa (Liberty Seguros) didn't start, having fractured his wrist in a crash yesterday. Ivan Parra (Cofidis) started the attacking almost immediately, and the battle was joined. Lövkvist, Duran, McCartney, Pauriol, Almagro, and Voigt all tried their luck in the first 20 km, to no avail. A group of 25 riders managed to escape, gaining as much as 55 seconds, but was brought back by the watchful peloton, which covered 46.6 km in the first hour.
The attacking continued in the second hour, and after 71 km, a large group of 20 riders got away just before the cat. 1 Alto de la Herrera. The break included: Garzelli (Liquigas), Moos (Phonak), Kolobnev and Weening (Rabobank), Lobato (Saunier), Egoi Martínez (Discovery), Botcharov (Credit Agricole), Colom (Caisse D'Epargne), Parra (Cofidis), Wielinga (Quick Step), Sevilla (T Mobile), Fedrigo (Bouygues), Ghisalberti (Milram), Mayo (Euskaltel), Casar and Leblacher (Française des Jeux), Goubert (AG2R), Serrano, Bru and Azanza (208 - Kaiku). Azanza was dropped as soon as the climb started, while the rest of the 19 gained 57 seconds over the peloton, which was led by Liberty Seguros.
At the top of the climb, it was Serrano first ahead of Garzelli and Ghisalberti, with the peloton just 30 seconds behind the escape. The pace was still very high, with 41.7 km covered in the second hour. Kolobnev, Bru and Casar were all dropped, reducing the break to 16, and after riding out to a 55 second gap again, Liberty brought everything back together with 60 km to go. The calm didn't last long though, as a new group of 16 got clear almost immediately, now forcing Euskaltel to chase to keep hold of Sanchez's lead.
The group crossed the cat. 3 Alto de Zaldiaran with Marzano (Lampre) taking the points ahead of Cobo (Saunier Duval) and Vasseur (Quick.Step). It then split after 135 km with Charles Wegelius (Liquigas), Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto), Cristian Moreni (Cofidis), Gorazd Stangelj (Lampre-Fondital) and Vasseur and Marzano leading a group of dive riders by 43 seconds, and the bunch by a minute.
Stangelj was first to the top of the Alto de Vitoria (km 139) ahead of Marzano and Moreni, but the sprinters teams finally took control and upped the pace in the last 20 km. The break survived over the final climb of the Alto de Zaldiaran (km 159) with Stangelj again first to the top, but on the run in to Vitoria, everything came back together for a bunch sprint. Oscar Freire made no mistake this time as he beat race leader Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), with nearly 100 riders making it to the finish in the lead group.
Tomorrow's fifth stage is between Vitoria-Gasteiz and Zalla over 178 km, with the cat. 1 Alto De Orduña after 61 km, followed by a series of smaller climbs in the finale.