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Bettini charges to second stage victory in the rain

Paolo Bettini of Team Quick Step charged out of the leading group on the difficult curving uphill finish in Suances to take the win one second ahead of Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Lampre's Damiano Cunego. The loser on the rainy day was Alejandro Valverde, who fell back with about 50km to go and ended up cinceding over three minutes. Egoi Martínez successfully defended his leader's jersey going in to the final rest day.

Bettini's second Vuelta 2008 stage win came on the day that he announced he was leaving Quick Step after 10 years due to a financial dispute. He denied that revenge motivated him for the victory, though. "It's true, I will not be riding for Quick Step next year," he said. "I am disappointed about this but it didn't give me extra motivation. From the beginning of the Vuelta, I had marked the stages to Toledo and Suances before the race. That is all the motivation a professional rider needs!"

Bettini reflected on his superiour sprint in the bad conditions. "Today was very tough because of the weather. It was raining and I didn't have my best legs," he added. The little Italian also sympathized with Valverde. "For the overall I am unhappy for Alejandro Valverde. He is a great champion. When you ride for the overall you have to have a thousand eyes. I really wanted to put my stamp on the race today and the team and I decided to ride it like a Classic. Euskaltel and Astana could take advantage of the situation."

Bettini's team-mate, Juan Manuel Garate, wasn't surprised at "il Grillo's" win. "From the very first minutes of the race Paolo informed us that he wanted us to control the race in every moment, come what may. Alejandro [Valverde] lost a couple of minutes and it may have ruined his chances [in the overall]. The weather was really horrible coming down the descent of the next-to-last and the last climb. It was foggy and wet."

Valverde lost contact with the favourites' group on the final descent of the day, with about 50 kilometres to go, and when Astana and Euskaltel noticed that he had fallen off the back, they mercilessly picked up the speed in order to drop him once and for all. The Spanish champion lost 3:23 minutes on the day and dropped from fourth to eleventh overall, most likely burying his chances of the overall win at 4:19 down.

The disappointed Valverde let reporters stand in the rain fifteen minutes before telling them he would have nothing to say to them.

The day started out with nice summer weather, but that didn't last long. Sébastien Hinault (Crédit Agricole), Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) and Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) took advantage of the early good weather to get away only eight kilometres into the stage. Their lead hovered between three and four minutes all day.

As the field started up the second climb of the day, the Portillo de Lunada, they first hit the fog and rain which would stay with them the rest of the day. The rain was heavy at times and the roads were very wet, but the riders were careful and didn't take any unnecessary risks.

One rider who maybe ought to have taken more risks was Valverde. On the descent from the Alto del Caracol, with about 50 kilometres to go, he got caught when the group leaders picked up the speed and he fell back into a following group. As soon as possible, nearly his whole team fell back to try and close the rapidly growing gap. Euskaltel and Astana noticed that they had the chance of dropping a major rival, and turned on the speed.

Valverde often did the lead work himself, and at one point broke out with Philippe Gilbert (FdJ) and Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis). At other times Caisse D'Epargne looked like it was repeating the opening team time trial in its vain attempt to bring its captain back into contention.

With about 30 kilometres to go, the chase group, which included all the favourites except for Valverde, caught the three leaders. Things stayed together as they moved quickly towards the finish, with the gap to Valverde increasing constantly.

There were mulitple attacks in the last three kilometres, but the sprinter's teams held things together. The final climb turned out to be more difficult than expected, steep and curving in the heavy rain. As the group wound its way up from the seaside, Contador opened the sprint early. But he was closelt trailed by a string of Italians, with Rebellin, Cunego and Bettini all keeping a close eye on Valverde's wheel. Bettini then put on a burst of speed to easily take his second win of this Vuelta.

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