Boonen Wins Stage 3 of Vuelta; Bennati Takes Race Lead
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has won Stage 3 of the 2008 Vuelta a Espana. The Belgian star won a bunch sprint to take the rolling, 168.6-km run from Jaen to Cordoba. Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) finished second, and Erik Zabel (Milram) took third. Bennati has taken the yellow jersey from Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
The racing began at the gun. Manuel Ortega (Andalucia) attacked in the opening km. At 17 km, he led the field by 5:00. Ortega's advantage ballooned to more than 15:00 before the peloton began to peg the lead.
Ortega's lead fell from more than 10:00 at 88.2 km to 7:47 at 123.1 km to 6:49 at the base of the day's only categorized climb, the Category 3 Puerto de San Jeronimo. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) surged out of the peloton and closed to within 1:45 of Ortega by the summit.
With 20 km left, Bettini caught and dropped Ortega on the descent. Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) followed suit. The bunch reeled them all in four km later.
Liquigas took over at the front. With three km remaining, Chavanel tried a solo sally, but the bunch caught him one km later. Bennati started the sprint, but Boonen came around him in the last 100 m to win.
Boonen's victory came at the end of a difficult stage. The heat made it so. According to Boonen, "Today was incredibly hot. It was by no means an easy stage. I already partly knew the route, which has been the scene of some beautiful stages in the Ruta del Sol and la Vuelta. At the top of the climb, I hit the downhill with the first group and from then I thought only about preparing the final sprint with the help of my teammates. I chose Bennati's wheel. Daniele is in great shape, and I knew he would be the man to beat. Everything went perfectly. When Bennati started the sprint, I stayed covered as much as possible, choosing the right moment to make my move."
Boonen attributed his victory to his good shape for this point in the season. "As I've said already this year, this race represented the beginning of the end of the season for me. I always ended the Tour de France tired because of the battle for the green jersey. This year instead I'm fresh, and the team is racing without much stress. This is another strong point."
In the overall, Bennati leads Valverde by 0:07 and Boonen by 0:10. Stage 3, a 170.3-km ride from Cordoba to Puertollano, will be another flat or rolling stage that should end in a bunch sprint. Will Boonen win again? Will Bennati or Oscar Freire (Rabobank) win? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!