Bettini beats Freire in tough sprint

In a fierce sprint, reigning World Champion Paolo Bettini had the edge on former World Champion Oscar Freire, who was quite unhappy with Bettini's move to the right at the very end, leaving the Spaniard boxed in. But at least he got to keep his golden jersey as race leader. The race ended on a tough rise with pitches of up to 7.5 percent and left the regular sprinters gasping for air. Australian Allan Davis continued to show his consistent form and came in third, with Davide Rebellin in fourth.

Bettini was happy with the team's work, saying after the race that "I had talked with [Carlos] Barredo [before the stage] and he had told me that today's finale was very good for me. Yes, I won today, but the whole team, the whole Quickstep-Innergetic has done truly a great work. I didn't win since February, so it is truly a special day for me." The Italian is keen on getting to Stuttgart, stating that "there are few days left for the Worlds and having won today is very good to cheer myself up. I raced the Vuelta in 2005 and 2006. I hope to win another stage especially for the Worlds. The Vuelta is a great tour. Now I will go on day by day hoping to win again."

The race was long dominated by a three-man break, but the last category 3 climb brought everything together. A split in the peloton was temporary, but just when everything was together, the speed got incredibly high, with every team wanting to be near the front. Quick.Step was hammering in the front on the final kilometres and deservedly took the victory through its world champ.

The Rabobank rider may not have taken the stage but he successfully defended his leader's jersey.

It was a fast and furious finale, which included two laps of a final closing course which went up a very nasty 7.5% climb with a sharp turn at the top, in the last 3 km. Quick.Step must have known that it would be Bettini's day, as they set a sizzling pace through the final kilometres, dropping as many rivals as possible.

Three riders -- Angel Vallejo ( Relax-Gam), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) and Serafin Martinez, attacked only four kilometres into the day. They stayed away a long time, but the peloton kept them on a long line and never let them get more than four minutes. They were finally swept up on the last mountain, with about 28 kilometres to go.

Haimar Zubeldia had an unusual crash. Orange traffic cones were set out in the road under the 20-kilometre banner, and a Rabobank rider knocked one over, right into the Euskaltel rider's bike. Down he went, onto his left shoulder. He eventually got back on his bike and continued, but came in 11 minutes down.

Tuesday's stage features only three ranked climbs, but on of those is the mountain-top finish on the Hors Categorie Lagos de Covadonga. It is 1,110 meters high with an average gradient of 7,3%, but a maximum of 13%.

How it unfolded

This stage ended in Luarca. It is a town by the Cantabric Sea in the province of Asturias. The Vuelta a España returned to this village for the first time in 60 years, having finished there three times before, in 1941, 1942 and 1947. Italy's Adolphe Deledda won that last time in Asturias.

There were no abandons yesterday and everyone signed in Viveiro. So, 188 riders went on the tour. The first breakaway of the day was made very early on (kilometre four) by three riders from modest outfits: David De la Fuente (Saunier Duval), Angel Vallejo (Relax-Gam) and Serafin Martinez (Karpin Galicia). At the first intermediate sprint (kilometre 55), the trio led by three minutes and 20 seconds.

The breakaway resisted, always having a slim margin. At kilometre 92, the leaders still had a three-minute advantage over the rest. In Nava (kilometre 104), the gap had shrunken to just two minutes and four seconds. It seemed the breakaway wouldn't last much longer. Anleo (kilometre 111.6) was the location of second intermediate sprint, where Angel Vallejo got the most bonus points, followed by David De la Fuente and Serafin Martinez. The gap was the same, just over two minutes.

On the lower slopes of the Alto de Bobia, a cat. 3 climb situated with 33 kilometres to go, the peloton reduced the advantage and swallowed Serafin Martinez. At the top of the climb, the two leaders (De la Fuente and Vallejo) led by just 28 seconds. It wasn't an easy climb for the sprinters who made an effort not to lose contact with the front end. Descending Alto de Bobia, the two leaders were caught by the big group led by Euskaltel Euskadi. Meanwhile, Mathieu Claude (Bouygues Telecom) quit the race.

The orange outfit forced the peloton to go faster than expected when going down towards the ocean with 25 kilometres to go on a premeditated strategy. Unfortunately for the Basque team, Haimar Zubeldia fell down badly exactly below the 20-kilometre to go banner. Meanwhile, the peloton went very fast and rejoined after temporarily being split in two.

The big group raced the last kilometres at a very fast speed around 70 kilometres per hour. The little climb by the sea, starting with two kilometres to the end, split the top sprinters group. Davide Rebellin, Allan Davis and Oscar Freire launched the final bunch sprint and fought with Bettini who made the right move metres before the end to cross the finish line. The world champion proved his great speed and versatility once again, as he is thinking of World Championship in Stuttgart.

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