Wed, Sep 05, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Bettini wins tough third stage of Spanish Vuelta

AP , LUARCA, SPAIN

Italian cyclist Paolo Bettini, right, celebrates while crossing the finish line to win the third stage of the Spanish Vuelta Cycling Tour between Viveiro and Luarca, Spain, on Monday. At left is Spanish cyclist Oscar Freire.

PHOTO: EPA

Italian cyclist Paolo Bettini won a tough third stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Monday, and Oscar Freire held on to the overall leader's gold jersey.

The Quick Step-Innergetic team worked hard over the final quarter of the 153km course to lead the pack before releasing the world champion for his final sprint to the finish line, which he crossed in 4 hours, 8 minutes, 42 seconds.

"Today, the whole team worked hard and it's a special day for me," Bettini said. "It's only a short time to the world championship and I've worked hard for those, and it's showing here this year."

Bettini, who finished second to Freire after a sprint in the second stage, protected the inside track to hold off a late surge from Freire, who immediately raised a hand in protest before settling for second with the same time.

"There's no problem between us. I explained that I maintained my direct line in the sprint and I didn't see him," Bettini said. "There's no case for him to say I cut him off."

Freire, who rides for Rabobank, leads the Vuelta with an overall time of 11:22:54, ahead of Colombian cyclist Leonardo Duque of Cofidis, who has the same time.

Discovery Channel rider Allan Davis and Davide Rebellin of Gerolsteiner watched as Bettini surged past them to the inside, but held on to finish third and fourth, respectively.

Vuelta favorite Oscar Pereiro recovered from a second stage crash to finish 14th, while this year's Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans was eighth.

A tough ascent up the category-two Alto de San Andre opened the third stage, a difficult route that featured four demanding mountain climbs and two sprint sections along a winding, oceanside course.

Rabobank controlled the stage from the start, looking to keep Freire fresh for the end.

But by the time the race was halfway over and into the province of Asturias, a steady wind off the Cantabrian coast had helped to slowly erode the Dutch team's lead as Quick Step-Innergetic moved closer into position for Bettini.

Mathieu Claude of France was the second cyclist to withdraw from the Vuelta after he was injured in a crash on the final descent from Alto de Babia. Discovery Channel rider Thomas Danielson pulled out after fracturing his shoulder in Saturday's opening stage.

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