Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) took his 18th Vuelta stage win and 46th in a Grand Tour on Wednesday, but afterwards you could be forgiven for thinking he?d finished last, not first.

in the bunch sprint which decided one of the dullest stages of the race so far (not as bad as the time trial to Zaragoza, but close) Petacchi?s victory was the kind that explained perfectly why he has 140 wins to date in his palmares.

Following a faultless lead-out from team-mate Erik Zabel, Ale-jet flashed across the line two bikes lengths clear of Paolo Bettini (Quick Step). He was so far ahead Zabel even tried – and failed – to outsprint Bettini for a Milram 1-2. But the man with his arms in the air, Alessandro Petacchi, still wasn?t happy about his first win of the 2007 Vuelta.

Normally gloomy at the best of times, Petacchi explained in mournful tones afterwards that he had had a lousy summer. An awful lot of it, to judge by the number of times he mentioned it, was to do with his positive test for salbutamol in the Tour of Italy. The rumours that the current Milram manager, Gianluigi Stanga, could be looking for another job, soon, did nothing to lift his mood, either.

But it?s the possible doping ban that was foremost in Petacchi?s mind on Wednesday. Cleared by the Italian Cycling Federation of any kind of offence (Petacchi?s levels of salbutamol were over the limit permitted for registered asthma users such as the Italian), the Italian Olympic Committee are still demanding Petacchi get a year?s sentence and have taken the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

The case is currently in the queue to be heard, and it’s a long one: in fact it could be Christmas by the time it is heard.

?I needed this win.? Petacchi, who didn?t race the Tour because of the salbutamol case, told reporters. ?I?ve had an awful summer, I didn?t train well for the Vuelta and I felt lousy in the first week.?

?On top of all that, there?s this case going on and on and I just hope it will be resolved soon.?

He said Milram?s situation remained uncertain in terms of which riders will be there in 2008, not just the manager, and made a plea for his ?train? of Italian lead-out men to remain intact.

Petacchi?s aim is to remain in the race as far as Madrid, and with Freire gone, the chances of another victory as soon as Thursday?s flattish stage are high. Hopefully by then he?ll have cheered up a bit, too.

Photos by Graham Watson

Tour of Spain stage 11: Oropesa del Mar – Algemesi 191.3km

1 Alessandro Petacchi (Italy) Milram 4-45-34

2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step

3 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram

4 Andre Greipel (Ger) T-Mobile

5 Carlos Da Cruz (Fra) Francaise des Jeux

6 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis

7 Allan Davis (Aus) Discovery Channel

8 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre

9 Aliaksandr Usau (Byl) Ag2R

10 Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Liquigas

15 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liguigas all st

Overall after 11 stages

1 Denis Menchov (Russia) Rabobank 44-27-25

2 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) Caisse D’Epargne at 2-01

3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto at 2-27

4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC at 3-02

5 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Karpin-Galicia at 4-35

6 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 4-42

7 Vladimir Karpets (Spa) Caisse D’Epargne at 5-49

8 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Liquigas at 5-56

9 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery Channel at 6-28

10 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir at 6-34

145 Magnus Backstedt (Ita) Liquigas at 1-26-08