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After he had finished second in Saturday's 40km time trial in the outskirts of Madrid, there was never much doubt that Roberto Heras would ride into the Spanish capital this afternoon and be crowned champion of his home tour for a record fourth time.
The only thing Heras lost as he finished in Madrid was ownership of the points title, which was snatched by Alessandro Petacchi, when he secured his fifth stage win of the race. Although Petacchi and Heras were tied on points, the Italian's greater number of stage wins gave him that competition, while his fifth win of the race once again underlined that the Italian is the big favourite for next week's world road race title also in Madrid.
Petacchi had to work hard for his victory on the longish drag to the finish, but held off Erik Zabel, once again a consistent presence in second place, and stage 19 winner Heinrich Haussler. After the stage Petacchi described the finish of next week's Worlds road race as "ugly and difficult", adding that he thought he would need at least two team-mates ahead of him to control things on the last bend, assuming the Italians have the race under control.
Petacchi explained that the last corner was so tight that riders would have to brake almost to a stop and then begin their final sprint, which he believes will favour Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen, who he views as his biggest rival. "Everyone thinks this circuit is easy, but it isn't. It's a long race, of almost 280km, there will be a lot of attacks, especially on the hills, and it will be very hard. This isn't like the course at Zolder [in 2002], you won't be able to just sit on the wheels."
Heras, meanwhile, said he would like to win another three-week tour, but said he was thinking about the Giro rather than the Tour de France. "I would like to return to the Giro because I've got good memories of that race. The mountains are difficult, the stages short, and I think I can go well, but [Liberty Seguros boss] Manolo Saiz will have to decide," said Heras.
Stage 21, Madrid-Madrid
1 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 136.5km in 3.34.41 (38.15kph)
2 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile
3 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner
4 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel
5 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Cofidis
6 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto
7 Bram de Groot (Hol) Rabobank
8 Michael Barry (Can) Discovery Channel
9 Arnaud Coyot (Fra) Cofidis
10 Ren Haselbacher (Aut) Gerolsteiner
Final overall standings
1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Wrth 82.22.55
2 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 4.36
3 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 4.54
4 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 5.58
5 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana 8.06
6 Ruben Plaza (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana 11.36
7 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) T-Mobile 13.22
8 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 16.38
9 Mauricio Ardila (Col) Davitamon-Lotto 18.15
10 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Quick Step 18.31
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