Alessio's young rider Franco Pellizotti won Stage 4 of the "Vuelta al Pais Vasco" by edging out breakway companion Nicki Sörensen (CSC-Tiscali) in the small but gruelling ascent to the finish line in Villabona. The Venetian rider (same region as today's winner in France, Massimo Strazzer) covered the 80 kilometres of the stage in a winning time of Two hours and Eleven minutes.
Both Pellizotti, who got his SECOND victory as a professional rider (despite a certain Eurosport TV commentator wrongly repeated more times that it was the first one, but the Alessio cyclist already captured Tirreno-Adriatico's Stage 6 in March ...) and Sörensen were part of a 4-man breakaway, who got clear very early in the stage, once more disputed under extremely bad weather, which caused not just several abandons, but also a shortening of the course, originally scheduled as 154-km. long, but then reduced because of the snow covering some climbs. So the leg started - under the rain - in Lizartza town, at 15h28 Central European Time.
Indeed the decisive escape, whose lead over the chasing peloton went up to more than two minutes, contained two Spaniards too: Kelme's Santiago "Santi" Pérez, stage winner at last year's Tour of Portugal, and Jazztel's Rafael Casero, younger brother of the 2001 Vuelta Champion.
During the first descent from the Alkiza climb, a couple of ONCE-Eroski riders (Portuguese José Azevedo and Spain's Abraham Olano who, besides being an excellent downhiller, perfectly knew the road as he's a resident of the nearby town of Anoeta) launched an all-out attack, trying to bridge to the escapers. Pointless effort though, as the men in yellow and black were reeled in soon later.
In the last ascent of the stage, Alto de Alkiza again, the Italian and the Dane managed to drop the Spaniards, who were subsequently caught by a trio (Euskaltel's David Extebarria and Samuel Sánchez plus Lotto's Belgian Mario Aerts) that previously suceeded in getting away from the next bunch.
Pellizotti and Sörensen made it to the end, and the Italian benefitted from his climbing skills to beat the Scandinavian in the final, very steep 500-mt. "wall" to the "Helmuga" (or "Meta" as they say in Spanish, or just "Finishing Line" as they say in English).
Despite the 4-man escape somehow endangered Aitor Osa's Overall Lead (the best-placed rider in the break was Pellizotti himself, 3'45" down on GC), in the end the iBanesto.com rider not only retained, but even strenghtened it. In fact he crossed the line about half a minute after the stage winner, while his closest challenger (Cofidis' Spaniard Bingen Fernández, same time as Osa at the start in Lizartza) lost more time.
No doubts that mr. Osa owes a lot to the hard work done all over the stage by his teammates, whom spectators might constantly see at the front of the peloton, both riding tempo in the first part of the race and chasing hard (eventually helped by the Rabobanks) after the 4 escapees had made the gap. As a result, not only the iBanesto.com guys narrowed the gap to the stage leaders, but also splintered the field, and dropped not just Fernández but also many other riders, as the chasing bunch was reduced to 20-25 men.
Things went even worse for the likes of Piccoli, Dufaux and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, who pulled out of the race.
STAGE 4 RESULTS (TOP 10 PLACES):
1 - Franco Pellizotti (Ita - Alessio) - 2h11'00"
2 - Nicki Sörensen (Den - CSC-Tiscali) - at 5";
3 - David Etxebarria Alkorta (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - at 18";
4 - Mario Aerts (Bel - Lotto-Adecco-ABX) - at 21";
5 - Samuel Sánchez González (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - at 21";
6 - Rafael Casero Moreno (Spa - Jazztel-Costa de Almeria) - at 30";
7 - Aitor Osa (Spa - iBanesto.com) - at 32";
8 - Beat Zberg (Swi - Rabobank) - at 32";
9 - Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz - Team Deutsche Telekom) - at 32";
10 - Gonzalo Bayarri (Spa - Relax-Fuenlabrada) - at 32";
OVERALL RANKING after STAGE 4 (TOP 10 PLACES):
1. Aitor Osa (Spa - iBanesto.com) - 14h 58'15";
2. Bingen Fernández (Spa - Cofidis) - at 29";
3. Franco Pellizotti (Ita - Alessio) - at 03'13
4. David Etxebarria (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - at 03'31";
5. Samuel Sánchez (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - at 03'34";
6. Mario Aerts (Bel - Lotto-Adecco-ABX) - at 03'34";
7. Beat Zberg (Swi - Rabobank) - at 03'34";
8. Gonzalo Bayarri (Spa - Relax-Fuenlabrada) - at 03'45";
9. Stefano Garzelli (Ita - Mapei-Quick Step) - at 03'45";
10. Fernando Escartín (Spa - Team Coast) - at 03'45"
Friday's fifth and final leg will be divided in two halves, as usual. The "morning session" of the stage is a 96km. road race going from Villabona to Elgoibar, while the decisive ITT (Eigobar-Eigobar, 15.2 km.) will take place in the afternoon.
The "Daily Peloton" will keep you informed of the latest developements and results of the race. Stay Tuned !