Stage 7 - Castellón-Valencia 165 kms - for live report and results, click
Victory in Valencia for Petacchi (c) Unipublic.
Petacchi proves his point
A slight grudge match today, or since the peloton sped by the side of Valencia’s historic football stadium of Mestalla, maybe a “Derby match” would be a better description. The home “team” or rather Oscar Freire and his young Dutch squad, Rabobank, versus the Italian sprinting “Giants” Fassa Bortolo. Freire had commented yesterday after his victory that Alessandro Petacchi was not the best sprinter in the race without his fabulous team backing him up. Petacchi was informed of these comments and went into today's stage determined to prove a point.
Although seven escapees tried to get to the river Turia on their own, in the end, Cofidis, Rabobank and Fassa Bortolo controlled the break and gradually reduced the five minute lead, until the peloton was back together just in time for the expected showdown. When the moment of truth arrived, the fast men of this Vuelta, Petacchi, O´Grady, Freire and Zabel again had their 200 metres of tarmac to prove who would be king.
The speed of the peloton as it approached Valencia built up like an aeroplane on a runway. Cofidis began to wind the pace up for Stuart O’Grady, who is looking to win the “fishy jersey”. Zabel, who has plenty of room on the team bus these days, used his experience to float between the wheels at high speed to counter the fact he could rely on little team help. Fassa Bortolo waited and waited, until once again the “silverteam” took command of the peloton and the silver train started to build up speed. Freire, Zabel and O’Grady positioned themselves behind Petacchi, who waited for his last man Guido Trenti to swing off the front.
Petacchi is back to his Giro best, and when he kicked for home no one could come close to catching his wheel; it is his third victory of this Vuelta. Zabel who rode almost on his own had the courage to come second and Oscar Freire took third position. All in all, it was a spectacular sprint.
The main protagonists of the day, not counting those on the podium, were Pütsep, Ivanov, Gutierre, Righi, Torrent, Elias and Calgary. They kept away for 154 kilometres on their own and enlivened the early stages of the race. Manolo Beltrán of the US Postal Service keeps the gold jersey for another day.
Beltran looked relaxed in the peloton today.(c) Unipublic.
Talking on TVE after the race, the fastest man in the peloton explained his tactics: “I knew that Freire would be looking for another victory after his win on Thursday, but after suffering early on in this race I am beginning to feel back to my best form. I had asked Guido Trenti to up the pace until 200 metres to go before I made my move, because I wanted to try to win on pure strength." Petacchi has now won three stages of Vuelta 2004 and has 11 wins in this race.
However, Petacchi lies a lowly fourth in the Points “fishy jersey” competition, which is turning out to be a battle between O’Grady, Zabel, with Freire still in contention. Courtesy of his second place today, Zabel retakes the jersey by just 2 points. Zabel now has 92, O’Grady 90, Freire 87 and Petacchi 75. However, as the race gets harder, Valverde in 5th spot may yet make some dramatic gains.
Zabel, back in the lead of the points competiton. (c) Unipublic.
It is not only Tyler Hamilton who gets into scrapes in a major Tour. Today we saw two of the major mountain protagonists, Felix “the cat” Cardenas, last year's winner of the KoM, and Carlos “the dummy” Sastre both suffer bad luck.
With around 10 km to go the race took a sharp right hand turn on a round about; the 31 year old rider from Cafés Baque got squeezed out and ended in the grass verge. The yellow and blue shirts dropped back to help the Colombian climber but his return to the peloton was hard work for the team.
Meanwhile the CSC team also encountered its share of bad luck – as the CSC site reports: “Shortly before the finish Sastre had a puncture, and his team mates had to escort him back to the peloton, where the speed had increased considerably in getting ready for the oncoming bunch sprint.
"It only took about a minute to get Carlos back to the peloton on his spare bike. This is what being a team is all about, and luckily it happened on a good wide piece of road, so it was all quite undramatic," explained sports director Kim Andersen."
Francisco Mancebo of Illes Balears-Banesto, wearing the mountain jersey, talking to Carlos Sastre. (c) Unipublic.
The Olympic Time trial champion, Tyler Hamilton , goes into tomorrow's time trial stage carrying yet another injury. However Phonak team manager Alvaro Pino is optimistic about Tyler Hamilton´s progress: “He injured his left hand. We visited a doctor who gave him a metal splint. We will have to watch his progress, but I feel very optimistic. The time trial? His injury is in the part of his hand that he won´t use when gripping the handlbar of his time trial bike, so I´m optimistic about it.”
Can Hamilton win tomorrow? (c) Unipublic.