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Paolo Bettini showed that Italy will have far more than the bunch sprinting talent of Alessandro Petacchi to lean on in next week's world road championship when he held off his compatriot on the uphill finish of the Vuelta's 16th stage in Valladolid this afternoon.
Bettini attacked from 200 metres out, and although Petacchi closed in on the Quick Step rider, he could not overhaul him. There was no notable change in the overall standings, with Roberto Heras still 4-30 ahead of Denis Menchov going into a tough mountain stage tomorrow featuring four categorised climbs, including two trips over the first-cat Navacerrada before the finish in La Granja de San Ildefonso.
Bettini became one of the few riders to have won stages in all three major tours and said completing the set with today's victory was "like a liberation".
"Petacchi knew that he had to let me go and make his counter-attack at the right moment. But I succeeded in holding him off because I really wanted this victory," said the Quick Step man, who admitted he is still very much looking for victory in Madrid at the Worlds the weekend after next.
"If the race is decided in a sprint we will all work for Petacchi, that's clear, but I think it would be stupid for the Italian team to rest everything on just one rider. I will try to escape because the final straight is on a slight rise just like today's," Bettini admitted.
Stage 16, Leon-Valladolid
1 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic 162.5km in 3.40.56 (44.13kph)
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo
3 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Phonak
4 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Saunier Duval
5 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel
6 Mauricio Ardila (Col) Davitamon-Lotto
7 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile
8 Pablo Lastras (Spa) Illes Balears
9 Thomas Ziegler (Ger) Gerolsteiner
10 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros
11 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC
15 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne
16 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana
17 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) T-Mobile Team
18 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank
24 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 0.10
1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Wrth 65.28.36
2 Menchov 4.30
3 Sastre 4.50
4 Mancebo 6.45
5 Garcia Quesada 8.02
6 Sevilla 11.16
7 Ruben Plaza (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana 11.39
8 Danielson 12.15
9 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Quick Step 13.32
10 Santos Gonzalez (Spa) Phonak 14.20
- Lampre-Caffita's Daniele Bennati, a triple stage-winner at the recent Deutschland Tour, took today's second stage of the Tour of Poland, with compatriots Luca Paolini and Francesco Chicchi second and third respectively for the second day in a row. Paolini picked up six seconds in bonuses during the stage to take the overall lead from Baden Cooke.
1 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 226.5km in 5.54.37
2 Luca Paolini (Ita) Quick Step
3 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo
4 Jaroslaw Zarebski (Pol) Intel
5 Max van Heeswijk (Hol) Discovery Channel
6 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner
7 Baden Cooke (Aus) Franaise des Jeux
8 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step
9 Uros Murn (Slo) Phonak
10 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est) Crdit Agricole
Bettini lays down Worlds markerClose
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