Oscarito dominates Vuelta's sprints

Oscarito has put his season's woes behind him, and has positioned himself as the man to lead Spain...

Three-time World Champs takes third 2007 Vuelta win

Oscarito has put his season's woes behind him, and has positioned himself as the man to lead Spain in the upcoming World Championships by winning his third 2007 Vuelta a España stage. Oscar Freire rode the crest of the bunch sprint wave to finish in front of compatriot Koldo Fernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and German André Korff (T-Mobile).

"No one wanted to win, not even me. I wanted the breakaway to succeed," Freire said with some surprise at the end of the day. "I knew it was going to be difficult because there were sprinters like Petacchi and Boonen who stayed quiet yesterday. I knew it was going to be a hard sprint, especially because of the wind coming from behind that was better for them. In the end, I reached the final metres with strength, and I took it all again."

The Vuelta a España was treated to a true 'bunch sprint' as the race wound up in the red wine-producing town of Logon. The teams of Milram, Quick.Step and Lampre-Fondital had been working on the front for most of the closing kilometres of the day's stage, especially with seven kilometres to go, after the escape was caught.

T-Mobile added its magenta colours in the mixer with a tremendous surge in the closing five-thousand metres. It was pumping the rhythm to 60 kilometres per hour for André Korff. However, nowhere in the sprint picture were the orange colours that dominated yesterday's stage. One could have been mistaken to think that Rabobank's sprint captain was not going for the stage.

Freire did appear to the honed cycling fan's eye, but in the dark red jersey of sprints leader (a competition he will easily lead going into tomorrow's 176.3 kilometre stage). The 31 year-old Spaniard, three-time World Champion, was locked onto the wheels of Milram as it swamped T-Mobile with 2,200 metres remaining. As too was Australian Allan Davis (Discovery Channel).

Davis pushed the turbo button at 700 metres, and left behind the likes of Tom Boonen (Quick.Step - Innergetic). The 27 year-old's surge seemed to be enough to snag his first Grand Tour win, but the line seemed further and further away as the roar of a crushing wave was becoming deafening. Washed away, Davis watched as the seasoned Freire took control.

"They think it is easy, but it is not at all. Bunch sprints are always very dangerous and the less you risk, the better. In the final metres, one has to decide whether to get in the sprint or not. The team says I have to get in, my team-mates work for me and I have to answer back."

Freire is happy with his three stage wins so far, but feels obligated to give it ago if the race arrives in a sprint again tomorrow. "So far in the Vuelta, I can't ask for more, but I will stay in the race. If there is a bunch sprint tomorrow, I will have to get in again."

Korff gave his team-mates 'gracias' in the form of a third spot. Boonen kept his Belgian engine running up the left-hand side of the road to cruise in for fourth. Angelo Furlan (Crédit Agricole) did well with fifth, while fellow Italian Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) seemed unable to find his Giro d'Italia legs.

Escapees Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas), Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r Prévoyance), José Antonio López (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) enjoyed up to 169 kilometres of freedom today. They achieved a maximum advantage of near nine minutes while covering the sun-drenched and wind-swept roads. Today was the first day that the peloton could be seen breaking up under the power of Spain's winds.

López was the first to crack. The Spaniard popped at 14 kilometres remaining.

Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) maintained his one minute advantage over Denis Menchov (Rabobank) at the end of stage six. The Russian wearer of the maillot oro of race leader is focused on the tough weekend ahead.

"I will try to be the race leader as much time as I can," noted Efimkin. "As I said before, every day we are getting closer to Madrid for the last stage. And if I have more chances to win, I am happier."

He commented on his role in the team. "I think it is more comfortable to have three leaders instead of two [including Pereiro and Karpets - ed.]. I am the current race leader, and it's possible that in the next coming days I will work for them with enthusiasm." Saturday's time trial could re-sort the general classification. "I will try to ride as fast as possible in the time trial in Saragossa. If I can't, it will be fine too."

How it unfolded

The capital of La Rioja Logroño is by the Ebro River. It is part of Camino de Santiago which is a road to Santiago de Compostela covered for the first time by Saint James that, today, many walkers do cover to Galicia. Logroño hosted a Vuelta's finale 14 times before. The last one before today had been in 1995 when Italy's Nicola Millani won.

183 cyclists started today in Reinosa on the way to Logroño. There was an early breakaway made by José Antonio López, Magnus Backstedt and Yuriy Krivtsov. Stéphane Augé of Cofidis joined the group that led the race by 4'34" over the peloton at the first intermediate sprint (kilometre 18). The four riders rode a good tempo and increased the gap up to 8'40" at kilometre 37.

The big group showed control of the stage by not allowing the breakaway to get an unmanageable margin. At kilometre 87, the distance between the peloton and the leaders was less than six minutes. 40 kilometres on, the gap was 6'25".

Before Angusiana (kilometre 136 - 48.3 kilometres to go), the peloton split in three groups due to the wind. The first peloton group cropped a lot the distance with the break. In Angusiana, the leaders were just 3'45" ahead. With 35 kilometres to the end, the distance was 2'54". The sprinters' teams like Quick.Step (with Boonen and Bettini), Milram (Petacchi) and Lampre (Bennati) upped the tempo and reduced the advantage. The break was about to die.

José Antonio López couldn't keep his break mates' rhythm. Backstedt, Krivtsov and Augé pushed on, but the distance was too big. They led by only 1'08" over the peloton with still 13 kilometres to cover. Finally, they were caught with more than seven kilometres to the finish line.

Then, Milram team with five men on the front tried helping Ale-Jet. The sprint was made on a very long straight line but Petacchi couldn't find his top speed. Freire was there among the best sprinters, and he found the right place, coming from left. The rider from Torrelavega won once again. It was his third win in the 2007 race. It is the first time that Freire won three times in the same Grand Tour. Koldo Fernández and André Korff were second and third.

Stage 7 - September 7: Calahorra - Zaragoza, 176.3km

On paper this stage should be one for escapes or sprinters giving the following day's time trial and the early, and only, appearance of a climb. However, riders may have to put their tactical skills on display in the form of 'abanicos' ('echelons' in Spanish). The high winds in the area leading to the finish town of Zaragoza are known to bust all but the weakest of riders.

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