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Zabel wins a crash-marred finish

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Erik Zabel is all smiles.

Erik Zabel is all smiles. (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Allan Davis of Discovery Channel (centre)

Allan Davis of Discovery Channel (centre) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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A happy Zabel with the trophy shining in the Spanish afternoon sun.

A happy Zabel with the trophy shining in the Spanish afternoon sun. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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The sprint was fiercly contested, even if there few left left to be in the mix.

The sprint was fiercly contested, even if there few left left to be in the mix. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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José Gómez Marchante (Saunier duval-Prodir) at the sign in.

José Gómez Marchante (Saunier duval-Prodir) at the sign in. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Race leader Efimkin leaves the Caisse d'Epargne team bus before the race.

Race leader Efimkin leaves the Caisse d'Epargne team bus before the race. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) gets his bike ready for another ride in oro.

Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) gets his bike ready for another ride in oro. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Efimkin leaves the sign-in podium and hopes to later climb on the finishing one to receive another golden jersey.

Efimkin leaves the sign-in podium and hopes to later climb on the finishing one to receive another golden jersey. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The sun shines on the golden helmet of race leader Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne).

The sun shines on the golden helmet of race leader Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne). (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) comes down the stairs of the podium that aren't quite so easy to handle with the cleats.

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) comes down the stairs of the podium that aren't quite so easy to handle with the cleats. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos Sastre (Team CSC) also carefully looks out that he doesn't subject himself to an unfortunate pre-race accident.

Carlos Sastre (Team CSC) also carefully looks out that he doesn't subject himself to an unfortunate pre-race accident. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) has more points in the combination classification but that actually means a lower ranking. He gets to wear the white jersey though as Efimkin's body already carries yellow.

Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) has more points in the combination classification but that actually means a lower ranking. He gets to wear the white jersey though as Efimkin's body already carries yellow. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) is confident he will keep the jersey at least through today as another sprint is expected.

Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) is confident he will keep the jersey at least through today as another sprint is expected. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) has been the dominating sprinter so far with three wins. With another mad dash to the line expected he'll want to get as much out of the Worlds preparation as possible.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) has been the dominating sprinter so far with three wins. With another mad dash to the line expected he'll want to get as much out of the Worlds preparation as possible. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The peloton await the things to come.

The peloton await the things to come. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Daniele Bennati and Tom Boonen are two of the sprinters who have mostly seen Freire's back, though Bennati won one stage.

Daniele Bennati and Tom Boonen are two of the sprinters who have mostly seen Freire's back, though Bennati won one stage. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bjarne Riis at the start supporting his CSC team. Since his doping admission he had been rarely seen.

Bjarne Riis at the start supporting his CSC team. Since his doping admission he had been rarely seen. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bjarne Riis is there to guide his CSC team

Bjarne Riis is there to guide his CSC team (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) smiles as he signs on in a borrowed jersey.

Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) smiles as he signs on in a borrowed jersey. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro adjusts his shades for a better view but with his team-mate leading the outlook couldn't be any better.

Oscar Pereiro adjusts his shades for a better view but with his team-mate leading the outlook couldn't be any better. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) is happy that his brother Alexander is finally in negotiations for a new contract. It took his win and the press conference to get things going.

Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) is happy that his brother Alexander is finally in negotiations for a new contract. It took his win and the press conference to get things going. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Bettini during a pre-race dance. Different warm-up methods are used in different teams...

Paolo Bettini during a pre-race dance. Different warm-up methods are used in different teams... (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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And what kind of music is the world champ listening to anyway? Or is it just the coach yelling?

And what kind of music is the world champ listening to anyway? Or is it just the coach yelling? (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A pensive Tom Boonen would love to win today.

A pensive Tom Boonen would love to win today. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) is getting ready to tackle the last sprinters' chance before the time trial.

Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) is getting ready to tackle the last sprinters' chance before the time trial. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Gomez Marchante is happy to start the race soon.

Gomez Marchante is happy to start the race soon. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen relaxed, leaning on his saddle. So far the Vuelta hasn't given him the top spot yet, but he'll keep trying.

Tom Boonen relaxed, leaning on his saddle. So far the Vuelta hasn't given him the top spot yet, but he'll keep trying. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) looks a bit banged up still after his early crash, but is ok to ride today.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) looks a bit banged up still after his early crash, but is ok to ride today. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) shyly comes out of the bus but he is ready to race for another sprint win.

Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) shyly comes out of the bus but he is ready to race for another sprint win. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Cunego clearly shows the impact the crash left but he is ready to carry on.

Cunego clearly shows the impact the crash left but he is ready to carry on. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The small sprint unfolds.

The small sprint unfolds. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Allan Davis of Discovery Channel (centre) gives it all as he pushes towards the line.

Allan Davis of Discovery Channel (centre) gives it all as he pushes towards the line. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Davis throws his arms up in the air.

Davis throws his arms up in the air. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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All eyes on the Aussie while the stage winner Zabel goes unnoticed.

All eyes on the Aussie while the stage winner Zabel goes unnoticed. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Efimkin comes in, but no panic as he was awarded the same time as the winner.

Efimkin comes in, but no panic as he was awarded the same time as the winner. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) keeps gold and will try to defend it in the time trial.

Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) keeps gold and will try to defend it in the time trial. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The sprint in full swing as Zabel does the 'tiger jump'

The sprint in full swing as Zabel does the 'tiger jump' (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The sprint group was very small today as most others were held up in a crash in the last two kilometres.

The sprint group was very small today as most others were held up in a crash in the last two kilometres. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Davis celebrates, but it is Zabel who prevails using his Milano-Sanremo experience to get it right.

Davis celebrates, but it is Zabel who prevails using his Milano-Sanremo experience to get it right. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux) is exhausted and couldn't quite pull it off in the end.

Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux) is exhausted and couldn't quite pull it off in the end. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Erik Zabel (Milram) on the podium.

Erik Zabel (Milram) on the podium. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The German beat the Aussie to get onto the podium in a tight race for first.

The German beat the Aussie to get onto the podium in a tight race for first. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The stage winner Zabel gets the trophy and a cute teddy bear for company.

The stage winner Zabel gets the trophy and a cute teddy bear for company. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Erik Zabel is all smiles.

Erik Zabel is all smiles. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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He has been missing the kissing for a while but it till feels good.

He has been missing the kissing for a while but it till feels good. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Efimkin is happy to not have been injured in the crash and is now ready to tackle the tough weeks ahead.

Efimkin is happy to not have been injured in the crash and is now ready to tackle the tough weeks ahead. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) would like to get used to this celebration business.

Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) would like to get used to this celebration business. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A happy Russian is treated to some nice kissing on the podium.

A happy Russian is treated to some nice kissing on the podium. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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German sprinter Zabel can still win, get kissed and wave, all at the same time.

German sprinter Zabel can still win, get kissed and wave, all at the same time. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

The Grand Old Man of German cycling can still do it--Erik Zabel (Team Milram) won the sprint in the seventh stage of the Vuelta a España ahead of Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) and Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Innergetic). It wasn't a mass sprint though, as a crash about two kilometres before the finish blocked the way for all but about 12 riders. There were no changes in the overall classification.

"Petacchi was the only one of us involved in the crash two kilometres before the finish, fortunately," the 37-year-old Zabel said. "There were five riders in front, including Marco Velo, who of course waited for us. Then Alberto Ongarato closed the gap, so I could move all the way up and take the sprint."

The stage was marked by an escape of two riders from two Spanish non-ProTour teams. Raul Garcia de Mateo (Relax-Gam) and Jesus Rosendo Prado (Andalucia-Caja Sur) got away shortly after the race's flying start. They build up a lead of over nine minutes.

With 30 kilometres to go, the day's first mass crash slowed the peloton's chase. Bert Roesems (Predictor-Lotto) had to be taken off in an ambulance due to a hip injury.

The onrushing peloton gobbled up the two escapees about seven kilometres before the finish, and the sprinters' teams moved to the front to set things up for their fast men. But a combination of the curving road and the heavy winds caused another mass crash with two kilometres to go, which totally blocked the road. Those behind the crash included such big names as Alessandro Petacchi, Daniele Bennati and triple stage winner Oscar Freire. They were stuck and unable to play a part in the day's outcome.

Tomorrow's time trial runs 52.2 kilometres from Denominación de Origen Cariñena to Saragossa. It is downhill all the way, dropping from 560 metres to 210 metres. The exceptionally long time trial is expected to bring another major shake-up in the overall standings.

How it unfolded

The first settlement where Saragossa currently is situated was supposed to be in 24 B.C. In the VIIIth century, the city became a Muslim centre called Medina Albaida Sarakosta. In 1118, the city was retaken by Christians and designated the capital of the Aragon kingdom.

After only three kilometres, two riders, Raul Garcia de Mateo (Relax Gam) and Jesus Rosendo (Andalucia Caja Sur), got rid of the big bunch. The peloton allowed the two-man break to proceed after figuring they could be easily caught at the end. Garcia de Mateo and Rosendo increased their advantage to a maximum of eight minutes, at kilometre 49. In the first intermediate sprint in Cervera del Rio Alhama, at kilometre 55, the leaders were nine minutes and 17 seconds ahead of the peloton. That was the largest gap the duo could accomplish for the day. Again today, it was Milram and Lampre were the most active teams in steadily reducing the gap.

Later on, Alberto Fernandez de la Puebla (Saunier Duval-Prodir) abandoned the race. The Spaniard suffered a crash in Luarca, in stage 3, that forced him to get stitches in his chin. Additionally, he had problems in some of his teeth. He started the race, but the pain was too much and he quit the Tour of Spain today. On the category 3 Puerto de Lanzas Agudas (at kilometre 103), the gap to the two front riders was six minutes and 50 seconds.

There was a massive crash at kilometre 145, 31 kilometres from the finish. Many riders fell to the ground and the one who suffered the most was Bert Roesems (Predictor-Lotto), who took a hard hit to his hip. He quit the race in the ambulance. The rest of the crash victims were able to carry on.

The duo knew their adventure would end. The peloton swallowed them with less than seven kilometres to go after a 167-kilometre breakaway. Then, the Milram team took command of the race as usual. Alessandro Petacchi had won in Saragossa before, while Erik Zabel was a second choice for this outfit. In contrast, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) decided not to fight for the front positions in order to contest the bunch sprint as he tried to avoid crashes.

The peloton's pace was fast with 70-km/h peaks. Lampre, T-Mobile and Quick.Step-Innergetic also wanted to win here. In the last two kilometres, there was another massive crash. This cut didn't involve the top sprinters who had started the bunch sprint. Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) led the final sprint into the centre but Zabel's last effort coming from the far left was good enough to give the experienced German the stage win over the Australian. World champion Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Innergetic) arrived in third place.

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