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Italy's Luca Paolini earned his first stage win at a major tour when he sprinted away from a 12-man breakaway to win the 12th stage of the Vuelta a Espa¤a. Liquigas's Paolini left his rivals standing four kilometres from the finish of the 169-kilometre stage from Aranda de Duero to Guadalajara to earn a five-second victory over Belgian Bart Dockx, with Quick Step's Paolo Bettini third.
It was another quiet day for the race leaders, with Alejandro Valverde maintaining his 27-second lead over Andrei Kashechkin and his 44-second advantage over Carlos Sastre. All three riders finished in a bunch almost nine minutes behind the stage winner.
For Paolini, the victory is a confidence booster ahead of the world championships later this month. "It is my first stage win in a major tour and comes at a very important time in the season," he said after the win. "I've shown I'm in top condition for the Worlds because everybody in the break was there for the win and I beat them all.
"It was like a one-day race with the world championships coming up. It is good to get ProTour points and is overall a very important win to get."
Valverde, who has now held the leader's jersey for the last four stages, was content with his day's work. "The rain mid-stage made it a bit more dangerous, but I got through OK. A break went clear for the third straight day and all we had to do was control things behind," he said.
An initial 11-man break escaped after 78km, with Caisse d'Epargne's David Arroyo joining them seven kilometres later. At the 128km mark, the lead was 11-40 and never looked like being bridged. The attacks started 13km from the finish, but no one was able to gain a clear advantage until Paolini made his decisive move four kilometres from the finish.
Stage 12, Aranda de Duero-Guadalajara
1 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas 169km in 3.35.07
2 Bart Dockx (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 0.05
3 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
4 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel 0.08
5 David Arroyo (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
6 Ruben Perez (Spa) Euskaltel 0.17
7 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Franaise des Jeux 0.22
8 Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra) Ag2r
9 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.33
10 Bjrn Leukemans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 0.39
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 49.38.46
2 Andrei Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana 0.27
3 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 0.44
4 Jos Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval 0.56
5 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 1.38
6 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Discovery Channel 2.05
7 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel 2.28
8 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 2.31
9 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne 3.02
10 Sergio Paulinho (Por) Astana 3.42
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