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Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of the 187.1km seventh stage of the Vuelta a España. The stage is between Murcia and Orihuela. The two towns are relatively close but the stage route covers two loops on twisting roads before the finish.
All the 193 riders who finished yesterday’s stage are back for more today. Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) was apparently went to hospital last night and is still struggling with the mystery illness that has affected so many of his teammates.
It is hot again out on the road but temperatures are a lot nicer 33C, rather than the 40C temperatures the riders faced earlier this week.
The riders have just gone through the feed zone after 84km of steady racing. As in previous days, the break of the day went away early, after just two kilometres, and the peloton seemed happy to settle down for a smooth day in the saddle before a high-speed sprint.
Dominik Roels (Milram), Martin Pedersen (Footon–Servetto), Vladimir Isaichev, (Xacobeo Galicia) and Jorge Montenegro (Andalucia Cajasur) are the riders in the move. They quickly opened a 10-minute lead but the sprinter's teams have tried to control the move. The gap is now 6:20.
The stage includes the third category climb of Puerto de Hondón de los Frailes but it comes mid-way in the stage and so a sprint finish and another showdown between the fast men is expected.
Side winds could be a factor today as the riders change direction several times. A few echelons would certainly spice up the racing.
The Puerto de Hondón de los Frailes is coming up very soon. But we shouldn't expect any fireworks. The climb is 8.8km long but only averages 4.8 percent. It is also 70km from the finish.
The gap is coming down a little faster now. The peloton has finished lunch and the sprinter's domestiques are back on the front, setting a steady but consistent tempo.
The peloton is rolling along together with some teammates dropping back for bottles before the climb. It is HTC-Columbia on the front.
This are so relaxed that the riders in the break are even finding time to wave to the crowds. Hey this is the Vuelta.
So far in this year's Vuelta we've had six different winers from six different countries. Who is your pick for today?
Dominik Roels (Milram) is now blowing kisses to the television camera. It's a relaxed Friday, even in the race.
Dave Zabriskie is now on the front of the peloton. Doing his bit to pull the gap back for Tyler Farrar. His 'tache makes him look him like Ned Flanders from the Simpsons.
Crash! A touch of wheel and a few riders take a tumble.
The crash was probably sparked by riders moving to avoid a motorbike parked on the side of the road. A touch of the brakes, a touch of wheels and they were down. Fortunately they are al lback up and going again.
The break is on the Puerto de Hondón de los Frailes climb now. Lots of Venga, Venga, Vamos, Vamos calls from the crowd.
Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) is off the back off the peloton and suffering with the virus that has devastated the team. He reportedly spent time in hospital last night.
Dominik Roels (Milram) has pujnctured on the climb. He got a quick rear wheel change and is chasing to get back in the break.
David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) is sitting quietly in the peloton. He has just been named as Geraint Thomas' replacement in the Great Brtiain team for the world championships. As some one pointed out to Cyclingnews, that means that there are no Team Sky riders in the GB squad for Melbourne. The three riders selected are Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo TestTeam) and Millar.
As the bunch heads down the descent and back onto the flat roads, the gap is down to 3:50
It's official: Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) has been forced to abandon due to illness. The British team has now lost three riders due to illness. Ben Swift and John-Lee Augustyn retired on stage three.
The bunch is rolling along but is not too keen catch the break. The gap has returned to over four minutes as the cat and mouse pursuit begins.
David 'Ned Flanders' Zabriskie is back on the front, swapping turns with Lars Bak of HTC-Columbia and Daniele Righi of Lampre-Farnese Vini.
Upfront the four breakways arereally going for it now. They're trying to hold onto as much time as possible before the peloton starts chasing hard.
Things are getting faster in the peloton, with the riders fighting for position on the wheels. The wind coyuld play a factor in the outcome of today's stage. Christian Vande Velde is rightly on the front, staying out of trouble.
With 40km to go, the gap is 3:30, still within the one minute per 10km, as the average rate the peloton can catch a breakaway.
The peloton is going over some speed bumps but that is not stopping the pursuit of the break. The gap is 3:10 now.
The rest of the peloton seems happy to let Lars Bak, Zabrikeise and Righi do all the work. and for now, they seem happy to do it.
Who is your pick to win today. The Vuelta sprints have been thrilling because they've been so uncertain. Can Cavendish win his first Vuelta sprint? Can Hutarovich take another for FDJ? Garmin-Transitions is working hard for Tyler Farrar. And what about Petacchi, Freire and Davis?
The gap is falling faster now, as Lampre puts another rider on the front.
The peloton is screaming along at 60km/h on a fast but curvy section. FDJ are leading the chase but HTC, Garmin and Lampre are also driving things along.
FDJ is leading the chase now, with other riders helping them. The gap is hovering at two minutes, with only 18km to go. It could be close.
The four breakaways are riding like a team pursuit quartet now. They are going to really test the peloton and not give up without a fight.
It's a long flat blast to the finish now and the gap has fallen to 1:35
The gap is down to one minute and the peloton can see the four on the horizon. However the team cars are still in there, so the break is not giving up just yet. Vande Velde does another big turn on the front now.
The quartet has just 43 seconds now at exactly ten kilometres to go.
The neutral service car now pulls out from behind the breakaway and so there is now nothing between the break and the bunch.
The four have 10 seconds but it's virtually over for them. It's sprint time!
There are lots of leadout trains fighting for the front but here come HTC-Columbia for Cavendish.
The four breakaways are swept up and wisely move out of the way to avoid causing problems in the high-speed peloton.
HTC-Columbia seems to be leading it out. But it a little early to take control.
The peloton snakes aruond a huge roundabout, with Tejay Van Garderen now on the front. Race leader Philippe Gilbert is just behind him.
This is a fast one! Lampre now forming on the front.
Petacchi is there perfectly placed.
Lamopre lead it out but HTC are just behind them.
Petacchi went early and blocked Mark Cavendish a little but the old the Italian wins the stage.
Petacchi saw that Cavendish was on his wheel and moved to close the gap on the barriers. Cav was behind and so was blocked in and was cleary not happy.
It was close for third and fourth but JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank) got it. Tyler Farrar was fifth after also being blocked in in the final kilometre.
Belgium's Philippe Gilbert (Omrga Pharma-Lotto) kept his ten second overall lead.
That's it from the Cyclingnews live coverage from today's stage. Join us tomorrow for more action from stage 8.
The 190 km stage is from Villena to Xorret de Catí and includes some testing climbs.