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Zabel sprints to Valencia stage win

Erik Zabel isn’t washed up yet. The 37-year-old Milram ace out-sprinted younger rivals to snag his first win of what will likely be his final season in the 178km second stage of the Volta a Valenciana in Spain. Zabel — who saw his reputation sullied last year after admitting he used the banned blood booster EPO during the 1996 season — finished off an exciting stage that saw Slipstream-Chipotle’s Timmy Duggan feature in the day’s main breakaway.

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By Andrew Hood

Erik Zabel isn’t washed up yet.

The 37-year-old Milram ace out-sprinted younger rivals to snag his first win of what will likely be his final season in the 178km second stage of the Volta a Valenciana in Spain.

Zabel — who saw his reputation sullied last year after admitting he used the banned blood booster EPO during the 1996 season — finished off an exciting stage that saw Slipstream-Chipotle’s Timmy Duggan feature in the day’s main breakaway.

“That was a very challenging final sprint, so it went uphill to the finish line and was pretty narrow,” Zabel said. “I am very happy with my first win of the season. As a team, we worked very well today, especially in the last 20km, when we forced the tempo and set up the sprint.”

The narrow, gently climbing finale was just the type of sprint Zabel loves and counted as his 210th career victory.

He out-kicked Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre) with Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) coming through third. José Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d’Epargne) retained the overall lead after finishing safely in the main pack.

Sunny weather welcomed the peloton for the roller coaster stage over five Cat. 3 climbs. A three-man escape featuring Duggan, Juan Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Gustavo Cesar (Karpin-Galicia) dominated the race. Duggan picked up enough mountain points to move into a tie for second in the best climber’s jersey.

The trio held a gap of 3:30 with about 25km to go when Milram initiated the chase to reel in the dangerous breakaway. Caisse d’Epargne lended a helping hand to keep Gutiérrez in yellow when the break was caught with about 9km to go.

Gutiérrez, winner of Tuesday’s opener, retained his four-second advantage over Ruben Plaza (Benfica).

“My teammates did a great job to control the attacks and on the end we had to count on the help of the sprinter teams to arrive together,” Gutiérrez said. “I hope that we can keep it tomorrow. I am still not 100 percent, but I am feeling good and I’m gaining form little by little. I never expected to win yesterday and take the leader’s jersey, but that was a good thing for my personal confidence and for the Caisse d’Epargne team.”

Caisse d’Epargne will have its work cut out for them in Thursday’s tough, four-climb 166.5km stage starting and finishing in Ibi. There’s a Cat. 3 climb in the opening 17km followed by a trio of Cat. 2s in the final half of the course that could blow apart the peloton.

Results

Stage 2:
1. Erik Zabel (Milram)
2. Mirco Lorenzetto (Lampre)
3. Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis)
4. Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas)
5. Danilo Napolitano (Lampre)

GC:

1. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne)
2. Ruben Plaza (Benfica)
3. Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
4. Xavier Florencio (Bouygues-telecom)
5. Alberto Contador (Astana)

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