U.S. Postal's Beltran keeps overall lead
VALENCIA, Spain -- Italian Alessandro Petacchi took advantage of flat terrain and well coordinated team work to win the seventh stage of the Vuelta (the Tour of Spain) on Friday, his third victory of the race.
Petacchi, winner in Burgos on stage two and Zaragoza on stage four, was again unstoppable at the end of the 170- kilometer run between Castellon de la Plana and Valencia.
German Erik Zabel finished second and Spaniard Oscar Freire, winner of stage six, third.
Thirty-year-old Petacchi, who crossed the line in a time of three hours, 53 minutes and four seconds, said he had felt strong.
"I knew that Freire would be very keen to win after his victory yesterday, but after suffering early on now I am beginning to feel on top of my game," said Petacchi, who now has 11 Tour of Spain wins in his career.
"I asked my team mate Guido Trenti to accelerate up until 200 meters to go before I made my move, because today I wanted to try to win on pure strength," he added.
Petacchi said he was keen to add to his 20 victories this season.
"There is a time trial tomorrow and some mountainous stages immediately afterwards, but if I can get through them, then I will have more chances," he said.
"I got five wins in the Tour of Spain last year, and now I have three in 2004, so even if I don't win again this year, that's already an excellent total for just one week's racing."
The first part of the stage saw a seven-man break go clear for 138 kilometers, but the move was reeled in thanks to coordinated work from the sprinters' teams on the largely flat terrain 16 kilometers from the finish.
Spaniard Manuel Beltran remained as overall leader for a third consecutive day.
However, in Saturday's 40.1-kilometer time trial just south of Valencia in Almussafes, the U.S. Postal rider will have a tough time defending his lead.
Tied on time with Beltran in the overall lead was his teammate -- American Floyd Landis -- who led the race for the first two days.
American Tyler Hamilton, just 50 seconds behind Beltran in 10th place on the general classification, is also among the favorites for the time trial.