Oscar Freire (Rabobank) has already won more races this year than he did in all of 2009, and it’s only February.
The Spanish “gato” pounced to his second straight victory in Tuesday’s third stage at the Ruta del Sol (AKA the Vuelta a Andalucia), fending off Grega Bole (Lampre) and Simon Gerrans (Sky) to claim his third win in the 2010 season.
The three-time world champion looks back in top form following his lackluster 2009 campaign that saw only two minor stage victories at the Tour de Romandie.
Overnight leader Sergio Pardilla (Carmiooro-NGC) finished in the pack to retain the leader’s jersey going into Wednesday’s 10.9km individual time trial.
The hilly, five-climb 162.5km stage from Marbella and Benahavis started under sunny skies on Spain’s Costa del Sol, but it started to rain just as the pack roared in for the finish.
The day’s final climb, at the Cat. 2 Puerto de Ojen with 34km to go, proved too much for Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), who lost contact with the front group and could not contest the sprint. Cavendish’s season debut was delayed following treatment for an abscessed tooth and he was fourth in Monday’s sprint.
The hilly profile proved tempting for climbers José Angel Gómez Marchante (Andalucía-CajaSur) and Tour de France stage-winner Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil). The pair drove clear on the first climb and Feillu, who started the day 29th at 2:33 back, soon surged into the virtual lead as the pair opened up a four-minute gap.
Carmiooro got some help from Milram and the gap was trimmed to under two minutes over the final Ojen climb and the pair was caught with 30km to go.
Rabobank massed at the front with 15km to go to control late attacks and drove home the sprint victory for Freire.
Three riders involved in Monday’s finish-line crash did not take the start, including Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre). Linus Gerdemann (Milram) also crashed, but started the stage.
The Ruta del Sol continues Wednesday with a decisive, 10.9km individual time trial on a flat road along Málaga’s seafront.
1. Oscar Freire (ESP/Rabobank),162.5 km in 4:33:36.
2. Grega Bole (SLO/Lampre) s.t.
3. Simon Gerrans (AUT/Sky) s.t.
4. Fabian Wegmann (GER/Milram) s.t.
5. Angel Vicioso (ESP/Andalucia) s.t.
1. Sergio Pardilla (ESP/Carmiooro) 13:38:37.
2. Jurgen Van den Broeck (BEL/Omega) at 09.
3. Manuel Vazquez (ESP/Andalucia) at 13.
4. Michael Rogers (AUS/Columbia) at 21.
5. Bauke Mollema (NED/Rabobank) at s.t.
12. Frank Schleck (LUX/Saxo) at 41.