Vuelta 7: Petacchi keeps Cavendish at bay

Bunch sprint decides stage on tragic day in Orihuela

 Italy's Alessandro Petacchi won the seventh stage of the Tour of Spain here on Friday but the action was overshadowed by the death of a Team Sky masseur. Txema Gonzalez, 38, died five days after he was taken to hospital suffering from a virus that has swept through the British team.

   Team Sky rider Juan Antonio Flecha of Spain withdrew from Friday's stage, hours after being treated for the same virus. Two other Team Sky riders, South Africa's John Lee Augustyn and Britain's Ben Swift, had pulled out of the event on Monday for the same reason. All the Tour of Spain participants are to observe a minute's silence for Gonzalez before Saturday's stage.

In the stage Petacchi pipped another sprint specialist, Britain's Mark Cavendish, to the line in a group finish at the end of the 187.1-kilometre ride from Murcia to Orihuela in eastern Spain. Belgium's Philippe Gilbert retains the leader's red jersey for a fifth day.

The stage itself was marked by an early breakaway by four riders -- Argentina's Jorge Martin de Montenegro, Martin Pedersen of Denmark, Germany's Dominik Roels and Russian Vladimir Isaichev. They built up a lead of more than 10 minutes but were caught just five kilometres from the finish.

Petacchi covered the course, which included one category-three climb, in four hours, 36 minutes and 12 seconds. Third in the sprint was Argentina's Juan Jose Haedo. The Italian thanked the other members of his Lampre team for their "good work" and admitted he had "trained very little before the Tour".

The 36-year-old, who has been dogged by doping allegations, won the sprinter's green jersey at this year's Tour de France.

Gilbert, who rides for the Omega Pharma team, finished in 13th place with the same time as Petacchi and retains his lead in the overall classification, which he first claimed from Cavendish after winning Monday's third stage. He remains 10 seconds ahead of two Spaniards, Igor Anton and Joaquin Rodriguez.

Saturday's 8th stage takes the riders on a mountainous 190-kilometre route from Villena to Xorret de Cati in eastern Spain.

© AFP 2010

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