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Having missed out on a victory on stage one by just nine millimetres, Oscar Freire made sure there was no need for a photo-finish as he sprinted clear to win stage four of the Tour of the Basque Country in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Freire was a good bike length clear of - who else? - Samuel Sanchez, whose confidence is so high he's now mixing it with the sprinters. Sanchez kept his lead, although he remains tied on time with Alberto Contador.
Another stage featuring plenty of hills - one first-cat to start and then three third-cats towards the finish - was fast and furious from the off. Breaks went and were brought back before a group of six went clear heading up the second of the third-cat climbs, the Alto de Vitoria.
Britain's Charly Wegelius was among them, and it was he who launched a late bid for glory as the Rabobank-led peloton bore down on the group just three kilometres from the finish. Wegelius was joined for a kilometre by former Italian champion Cristian Moreni, but the pair sat up 1500 metres out with the peloton right on the heels.
Having done a lot of the work, helped by Sanchez's Euskaltel team, to bring the break back, Rabobank seemed to temporarily lose their way as Gerolsteiner went to the front to set up Fabian Wegmann. He led out with 300 metres left and with Wegelius's Liquigas team-mate Stefano Garzelli on his wheel. Cruising in third position, though, was Rabobank sprinter Freire.
With a hundred metres left the Spaniard switched to Garzelli's left and swept by his two rivals, with Sanchez coming up on Freire's left to snatch second.
Having initially been very satisfied with his first victory on stage two, Sanchez is now talking about winning this race, which heads towards his home on the outskirts of Bilbao on Friday. "The stage is not too hard and it will be difficult to get any time gap on Contador," Sanchez admitted.
Interestingly, two of Friday's closing hills also feature in Saturday's closing time trial, which Sanchez has revealed he rode at least seven times before this race started. Contador may have the time trialling pedigree and victory in the equivalent stage last year on his side, but at 24km this time trial is longer than last year's and local knowledge and support will certainly tip things Sanchez's way. Of course, fourth-placed Cadel Evans is also still right in contention, although Patrik Sinkewitz slipped down the leaderboard today when he lost time on the run-in.
Stage 4, Lerin-Vitoria Gasteiz
1 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 172km in 3.56.43 (43.57kph)
2 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel
3 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
5 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas
6 Ruggero Marzoli (Ita) Lampre
7 Manuele Mori (Ita) Saunier Duval
8 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
9 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis
10 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Cofidis
1 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 15.37.41
2 Alberto Contador (Spa) Liberty Seguros
3 Rebellin 0.02
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
5 Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Cofidis
6 Miguel A. M. Perdiguero (Spa) Phonak 0.08
7 Toni Colom (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
8 Jos Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval 0.09
9 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0.10
10 Michael Boogerd (Hol) Rabobank
Freire gets his timing rightClose
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