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After three second place finishes and a few days in the leader's gold jersey earlier this week, Crdit Agricole's Thor Hushovd finally tasted victory at the Vuelta when he won the stage six bunch gallop into Leon. Well set up by his team-mates, Hushovd overhauled T-Mobile's Andr Greipel, whose long-range effort almost caught out the big names. Two of these names finished behind the German, as Erik Zabel took third and Alessandro Petacchi finished fourth, giving the first real sign that his form is coming at last.
After Wednesday's exciting stage in the mountains, today's was a more measured affair. Bouygues Telecom's Mathieu Claude's was the only breakaway of note. He went away after just 10km and was caught at the final sprint with 20 left.
A couple of late breaks came to nothing, as the pace rocked up on the run into Leon. After a great deal of work by Milram's lead-out men, Greipel looked like he'd taken advantage and received congratulatory hugs behind the line. But Hushovd was just as sure he had won, and the photo finish proved it.
"Being in the leader's jersey makes you think more about hanging on to it than winning, but I came here to win stages and until today I hadn't achieved that," said the big Norwegian. "I am very motivated and now I'm very relaxed. I took advantage of Milram's work, after they led out the sprint."
Hushovd said he has been watching Zabel and Petacchi, "but another German appeared, Andr Greipel, and I had to go down the left because he put my chance of victory in danger."
The Norwegian also admitted he had become better able to cope with the kind of heat currently blasting the Vuelta after a stint training down under. "It has always been a problem for me and I suffered a lot in it, but I've been able to deal with it better since training in Australia."
Race leader Danilo Di Luca never looked in any kind of trouble, but won't find the going so easy on Friday as the race tackles its second summit finish - the Alto de El Morredero.
Stage 6, Zamora-Leon
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 177km in 4.09.10
2 Andr Greipel (Ger) T-Mobile
3 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
4 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram
5 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Lampre
6 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Franaise des Jeux
7 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas
8 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) CSC
9 Alexandre Usov (Blr) Ag2r
10 Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 22.47.11
2 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Discovery Channel 0.04
3 Andrei Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana 0.18
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 0.29
5 Jos Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval 0.35
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0.36
7 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel 0.55
8 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 0.58
9 Ruggero Marzoli (Ita) Lampre 0.59
10 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) T-Mobile 1.00
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