Alessandro Petacchi took the third stage of the Ruta del Sol in Jaén today.

The Italian sprinter crossed the line ahead of Giovanni Visconti of Quick Step and Riccardo Ricco of Saunier Duval at the end of the 174-kilometre stage.

So, while the eyes of the cycling world are on the glamour and glitz of the Tour of California, with its slick marketing operation and its star-packed field, the old school Ruta del Sol has been battling for a bit of attention too.

Yesterday Cadel Evans won a stage ? his first road race win since stage seven of the 2005 Tour of Germany ? to strike an early blow in the race for the 2008 Tour de France. He became the first major favourite to register a win this season.

Petacchi followed suit today with his second victory of the year ? after the GP Etruschi in Italy earlier this month ? while many of the other top sprinters are yet to get into gear. Tom Boonen leads the field of fastmen in California, Robbie McEwen has yet to get off the mark, despite starting his season on home turf at the Tour Down Under.

The only other sprinter to get off the mark so far is Thor Hushovd, who won the opening stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean last week.

Petacchi hits the line first ahead of a frustrated Italian champion Giovanni Visconti. By Luc Claessen

RELATED LINKS

Alasdair Fotheringham’s eyewitness account from the Ruta del Sol

First blood to Evans ? Cadel wins a stage