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By Andrew Hood
Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) made it two in a row at the Vuelta a Andalucía-Ruta del Sol while race leader Pablo Lastras (Caisse d’Epargne) stayed in the driver’s seat with just one stage to go.
A five-man breakaway was reeled in just in time for the sprinters to take over, with Petacchi making easy work of Borut Bozihc (Cycle Collstrop) to claim the 173.5km march from La Guardia de Jaén to Ecija.
Early in the stage, Gustavo Domínguez (Karpin), Jesús Rosendo (Andalucía-CajaSur) and Josu Mondelo (Extremadura Solidario) chugged away in a bid for victory. Dionisio Galparsoro (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Alberto Benítez (Saunier Duval) soon bridged up.
The quintet built up a four-minute lead at 70km, but Caisse d’Epargne was careful not to let them get too much rope. Lastras was keen to become the first rider since the Ruta started Sunday to defend the leader’s jersey.
Quick Step lended a hand and the breakaway was neutralized with just 1.5km to go to set up the sprinters. The overall was unchanged with Lastras maintaining his 48-second lead to Clément Lhotellerie with Cadel Evans in third at 1:32 back.
“Just as we had hoped, we could count on the sprinter teams to help us neutralize the escape,” Lastras said. “The entire team worked well, just as it’s done in the previous days. Tomorrow won’t be a hard day and we will have to be attentive, but I hope to end this race in the best way possible, that’s to say, standing on the podium in first place.”
The 54th Ruta del Sol concludes Thursday with the short 134km fifth stage from Antequera to Córdoba in what should be another sprint finish.