Petacchi prevails for the third time

Heras maintains the leadership on another easy day

Not once, but three times. Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) has won his third stage at the Vuelta a España in a bunch sprint that finished in Lloret de Mar. Ale-Jet had to come around Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) in the last 100 metres after he lost his lead out man Marco Velo, while Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) sprinted well for third place. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros-Würth) kept the golden jersey after this transition stage.

"I will stay in the race for the second week, that's for sure," said Ale Jet post-stage. "If I feel good during the next stages, especially on Monday and Tuesday [the Pyrenean stages], I will go on, because later I will have another chance."

About the World's he said, "I don't want to talk about the World Championships any more. Now I am at the Vuelta. The World's race is very difficult; it's completely different from a Grand Tour stage where riders race for three weeks. After 250 kilometres it's certain that Hushovd will do well, as will Bettini or Boonen. I like to win in the Vuelta for me, for my team and for my fans."

Xavier Florencio (Relax Fuenlabrada) was part of the breakaway of the day, which got caught with 14 km to go. "I was in my own region, but I couldn't do it. From the start of the stage, we knew it was very difficult to finish the break, but you should try. With a team like Fassa Bortolo it's very difficult to hold a breakaway to the end."

Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval) was also part of the day's break. "The pace was rather faster than in the Giro," he told the media. "Let's see if I can give some joy to the people who support me later on the race. From tomorrow and Monday on, the real Vuelta a España begins. There will be a more selective race on those stages."

Roberto Heras had no problems today, but was more looking towards tomorrow's 48 km time trial. Heras named Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre, and Francesco Mancebo has the main riders who could take time out of him. "I don't know, the result is a bit unpredictable, but the golden jersey doesn't worry me," said Heras. "It is just as easy to keep it as to lose it. The key for me is simply to go to fast, because I don't know what can happen."

How it unfolded

After Sebastien Joly (Credit Agricole) quit the race yesterday, 180 survived the first week of the Vuelta. At km 6, Angel Gomez and Bart Dockx (Davitamon-Lotto) decided to attack. Xavier Florencio pursued them together with Daniele Nardello (T-Mobile), but the latter gave up after 18 km as the gap was still under a minute. But Florencio persisted, and despite suffering a puncture at km 24, he made it up to the two leaders a few km later, after they slowed for him. The break consolidated and the three passed through the first intermediate sprint in La Gornal (km 32) around 4 minutes ahead. Dockx crossed the line in first place followed by Gomez and Florencio.

The three leaders gained good ground over the peloton. At km 48 they led by 7'08. The trio kept increasing the difference to the rest and at km 78 it was 10'33. The Fassa Bortolo team realized they should raise the tempo for its only goal: a bunch sprint with Alessandro Petacchi celebrating. At Sabadell (third and last intermediate sprint at km 101) the gap was around 9'40 while Dockx crossed first, Gomez second and Florencio third. There were 88 km left, more than enough distance for the sprinters' teams to catch the three riders.

T-Mobile and Credit Agricole also helped chasing the breakaways and the advantage at km 110 was cropped to 8'15. Thirty kilometres later the gap was drastically reduced to 3'25. At km 142 (47 km to go) Jose Ivan Gutierrez crashed once again during the Vuelta, but he went on.

Credit Agricole and Fassa Bortolo kept working, though the leading trio struggled to maintain the difference. With 28 km to go the breakaway was totally controlled, as the leaders had a 1'38 gap. The peloton caught the breakaways with 14 km to go, having spent almost 170 km in front. Luis Pasamontes (Relax Fuenlabrada) took his chances, didn't wait a second, and attacked the group at that same moment.

His effort wasn't successful, neither was that of his teammate Freddy Gonzalez, who got caught when the Fassa Bortolo train turned on engines a few kilometres before the end. Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak) also defied the Italian outfit, attacking on a small hill with 3 km to go, but with 2 km to the finish, he was swallowed by the peloton.

Fassa Bortolo prepared the sprint, but things came a little unstuck in the final corner with 500m to go when Petacchi was shuffled off Velo's wheel. Instead it was Thor Hushovd who got it, and mighty Thor led out the sprint with Bettini and Petacchi on his wheel. But Petacchi showed his class, hit the afterburners, and cruised around Hushovd to win his third stage.

Stage 9 - September 4: Lloret de Mar-Lloret de Mar, 48 km

This is a crucial stage in the race. It's a long individual time trial close to the sea. There's only one slight mountain difficulty called Alto de Tossa (Category 3, 260 meters above sea level) at km 21.4. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) will have a big chance to regain the golden jersey that he wore in the first stage. Roberto Heras should do a decent time trial to keep there in the top three positions. A very exciting stage to watch and an important day in the race.

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