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Winner of last month's Ruta del Sol, Carlos Garcia Quesada (Unibet.com) continued his run of success on Saturday when he beat Damiano Cunego (Lampre) at the Collado Bermejo summit finish on stage four of the Tour of Murcia. The pair finished well clear of the main pack of chasers battling for the overall lead. That went to 3 Molinos Resort team leader Santos Gonzalez, who finished 18 seconds ahead of Friday's time trial winner Ivan Gutierrez. Gonzalez takes a three-second lead over Gutierrez into Sunday's final stage.
Garcia Quesada reached lone leader Egoi Martinez on the penultimate climb, the first-cat Alto de Espu¤a, where he led by 30 seconds over the chasers with just 9km remaining. Cunego gave chase to the Spaniard on the final climb, named in honour of the late Marco Pantani, a past winner here, but the Italian lost out in the final sprint for the line.
Behind these two riders, Gutierrez was vainly trying to defend his lead with the help of Illes Balears team-mates Francisco Perez and Alejandro Valverde. But Gutierrez could not resist and found himself eased out of the lead by a narrow margin. The race finishes on Sunday with a 138km stage on mainly flat roads around Murcia, where Gonzalez and his team should celebrate a famous win against most of the sport's biggest teams.
Meanwhile, Cunego's team manager Giuseppe Martinelli expressed his delight with Cunego's second place finish. "I'm very happy for what Cunego showed today. Damiano and the team did in a perfect way what we had planned. For sure a victory would add have been the icing on the cake, but I can't complain," said Martinelli.
"Garcia Quesada surprised us when he accelerated and gained 50 seconds. We worked with [Sylvester] Szmyd, who pulled some seconds back, and with 5km left it was Damiano's turn. He dropped everyone else and almost reached Quesada. If the final part of the climb had been harder, Cunego would have won.
"Damiano's performance should be assessed bearing in mind that he's only on his fifth day of racing and is up against cyclists who have already raced a lot. However, Cunego showed that he's a class cyclist: when there's a climb, he goes very, very fast. I'm very satisfied, the season is going the right way."
Stage 3, Jumilla time trial
1 Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne 21.6km in 25.34 (50.70kph)
2 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Liberty Seguros 0.10
3 Michael Rich (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.14
4 Santos Gonzalez (Spa) 3 Molinos Resort 0.15
5 Markus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.26
6 David Bernabeu (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana 0.29
7 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre-Fondital 0.30
8 Jurgen van den Broeck (Bel) Discovery Channel
9 Jan Hruska (Cze) 3 Molinos Resort 0.40
10 Juan Gomis (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana 0.43
Stage 4, Caravaca-Collado Bermejo
1 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) Unibet.com 148km in 3.49.47 (38.80kph)
2 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre 0.03
3 Emanuele Sella (Ita) Panaria 0.36
4 Theo Eltink (Hol) Rabobank
5 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel
6 Santos Gonzalez (Spa) 3 Molinos Resort 0.38
7 Jan Hruska (Cze) 3 Molinos Resort 0.45
8 Angel Vicioso (Spa) Liberty Seguros 0.51
9 Giuliano Figueras (Ita) Lampre
10 Juan Carlos Dominguez (Spa) Unibet.com
1 Santos Gonzalez (Spa) 3 Molinos Resort 12.22.08
2 Gutierrez 0.03
3 Bernabeu 0.27
4 Hruska 0.32
5 Garcia Quesada 0.39
6 Vicioso 0.41
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Illes Balears 1.09
8 Cunego 1.41
9 Figueras 1.53
10 Sella 2.01
- There was more success for Spain in Saturday's Milan-Turin semi-classic, which was won by former world champion Igor Astarloa, with another Italian rider relegated to second place, in this case Liquigas's Franco Pellizotti.
Ivan Basso, Danilo Di Luca and Stefano Garzelli were among the big names making their debuts this season. Garzelli was prominent on the key Superga climb close to the finish, but it was Astarloa and Pellizotti who went clear of a group of about 30 riders on the false flat that followed the Superga.
The pair were joined by two more Italians, Mirko Celestino and Alessandro Ballan in the final kilometre, but the three Italians could not stop the Spaniard sprinting clear for the victory.
1 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Barloworld 199km in 4.30.36 (44.12kph)
2 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas
3 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Milram
4 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
5 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram 0.07
6 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas
7 Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Panaria
8 Gabriele Bosisio (Ita) Tenax
9 Andrea Tonti (Ita) Acqua e Sapone
10 Sergio Barbero (Ita) Selle Italia
Garcia Quesada denies Cunego in MurciaClose
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