Bettini wins third stage, Freire retains overall lead
LUARCA, Spain -- Italian cyclist Paolo Bettini won the third stage of the Tour of Spain 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 95-mile course to lead the pack before the world champion sprinted to the finish, crossing 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 Tour with an overall time of 11:22:54.
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.
Race favorite Oscar Pereiro recovered from a second stage crash to finish 14th, while 2007 Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans was eighth.
A tough ascent up the 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.
The Tour moves into mountain climbs Tuesday with a 115-mile fourth stage from Langreo to the finish atop the grueling Lagos de Covadonga, a special category climb ranked as the most difficult in the race's modern history.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press