The odds were right. Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth) achieved his fourth overall Vuelta a España...

Heras celebrates Vuelta number 4

Petacchi prevails in World's dress rehearsal

The odds were right. Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth) achieved his fourth overall Vuelta a España today, crossing the line in the last stage with a total time of 82 hours, 22 minutes and 55 seconds. Roberto Heras broke a very important record today: he is the first rider ever to win the Spanish tour four times: in 2000, 2003, 2004 and this year. Up until yesterday, Heras and Switzerland's Tony Rominger (in 1992, 1993 and 1994) shared the record of three Vueltas.

In the bunch sprint, there was another expected result. Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) prevailed over everyone and got his fifth win at this year's Vuelta in a time of 3:34.41. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) was second and Alcobendas winner Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner), third after a tougher than expected uphill sprint on the same course that will be used for the World Championships next week.

Petacchi spoke more about the World's at the press conference and not about today's stage: "It's a very long race. The sprint is 500 meters long. It's very hard and teamwork will be crucial". About second placed Zabel, he said, "He saluted me at the end. He is a great champion."

Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) didn't perform in the Vuelta as well as in the Tour de France, where he won one stage. "The day went fine, a hard but gratifying day because we go home now," said to Cyclingnews. "It wasn't the most relaxed stage of the Vuelta. On one hand, you have the joy of going home, but on the other hand, the day seems eternal because the tempo is very slow and the hours never end."

About the Spanish tour he commented, "I will have a good memory of this Vuelta. After the Tour I did, I took the Vuelta to see what happened. I had the chance to win one stage, I couldn't, but I will go back home glad."

How it unfolded

The riders who started in Madrid for the last Vuelta stage numbered 127. Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Caffita) didn't go to the sign on, but took the start in Madrid city. In a break with the trend of the last three weeks, but in accordance with the final stage of a grand tour, no-one was interested in attacking in the first kilometres.

The day was quite calm for the peloton. Nobody was willing to attack and Roberto Heras spent a very pleasant stage in the gold jersey, protected by his teammates. Everyone betted on a bunch sprint with Alessandro Petacchi as the biggest favourite. At the first intermediate sprint in Moraja de Tajuña (km 32), the Italian sprinter was first followed by Michele Scarponi (Liberty) and Charles Wegelius (Liquigas-Bianchi).

Petacchi had to win all three intermediate sprints and the stage to claim the points jersey from Heras, and at the second intermediate sprint in Fuenlabrada (km 69), Ale-Jet was also the first, nudging his bike ahead of Luis Pasamontes and Josep Jufre (Relax Fuenlabrada) on the line. The pace was still fairly slow as the whole peloton was relaxed and just wanting to end the big race.

Jorge Garcia (Relax Fuenlabrada) challenged the monotony and attacked solo at km 91. His attempt lasted just three kilometres, because the five Fassa Bortolo riders put themselves on the front of the peloton and caught him easily. Garcia was safely back in the fold for the third and final intermediate sprint at the first finish line passage at km 101.7, which was also won by Petacchi from his teammates Baldato and Ongarato.

As the peloton lined out for two laps of the 17 km World Championships circuit in Madrid, two riders dared to make a break: Luis Pasamontes (Relax Fuenlabrada) and Alexandre Botcharov (Credit Agricole), who attacked just after Petacchi won his sprint at 34 km to go. They were able to get a little gap and with 30 km to go, the duo led by around 25 seconds. Unfortunately at the rear of the peloton, Victor Hugo Peña (Phonak) crashed with other riders including Bernhard Kohl (T-Mobile) with 20 km to go. He hit the ground hard, but with assistance, the Colombian recovered and went on and finished the stage.

With one 17.5 km lap to go, the two breakaways were just meters ahead of the peloton. Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) joined the two leaders soon after. Then Benoît Vaugrenard (La Française des Jeux) also connected with the front riders. Fassa Bortolo and Liquigas rode a hard tempo behind to limit the advantage of the fugitives to 10 seconds, and they all came back.

No one could get a good advantage over the big bunch. However, Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears) and Thomas Ziegler (Gerolsteiner) also took their chances on the 2 km climb with 10 km to go, lasting until 5 km to go. Angel Vicioso (Liberty-Würth) was the next brave rider who failed to escape the clutches of the peloton, being caught with 3 km to go. Finally, Andre Korff had a go at 2 km out but couldn't hold the peloton off, even at 60 km/h.

On the downhill false flat, the bunch flew towards the final U-turn with 600m to go, Leon van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto) at the front for his teammate Gert Steegmans. But Petacchi was always up there in the top five and had one of his teammates left to lead out. After they rounded the bend, Marco Zanotti (Liquigas) started his sprint early and got a gap. But the hill was too tough and slowly, but surely, Petacchi overhauled him and everyone else as he outsprinted Erik Zabel for the nth time to win a stage. Heinrich Haussler finished a fine third.

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