By Andrew Hood
Rubén Plaza (SL Benfica) wrapped up the overall in the 66th Volta a Valenciana after finishing safely in the pack behind sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), who bolted to victory in Saturday’s final stage.
Runner-up Manuel Vázquez (Contentpolis-Murcia) was left without any option to make up the five-second difference to Plaza in the mostly flat stage around Valencia while Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom) settled for third overall at 21 seconds back.
A five-man breakaway featuring Luís Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne), Stephane Auge (Codifis, Guido Trenti (Liquigas), Eladio Sánchez (Orbea) and Benat Albizuri (Euskaltel) gobbled up the mid-race time bonuses.
The quintet opened up a gap of nearly six minutes 62km into the race, but the lack of wind didn’t produce any of the feared breaks in the peloton, allowing Plaza to sit back and wait for the sprinter teams to get busy.
Trenti gave up the chase with about 20km to go, but the remaining four fought the good fight and weren’t neutralized until just 2km to go.
Milram took over and set up Petacchi to snag his first win of what had been a fairly quiet week for the Italian. Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) came through second with Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) third.
The overall title for Plaza came after the controversial third stage when a group of chasers featuring overnight leader José Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d’Epargne) was misdirected off the route when they were barreling down on the escaping Plaza and Vázquez.
Vázquez went on to win the stage and Plaza slipped into the overall lead for good in the stage that finished in Plaza’s hometown of Ibi.