FORSTER SAVES GEROLSTEINER’S VUELTA

German Robert Forster won a chaotic bunch sprint in stage 15 of the Tour of Spain on Sunday, with CSC?s Stuart O?Grady second and Italian Danilo Napolitano placing third.

In what was probably the most uneventful day of the Vuelta so far, Forster - winner of the last stage of the Giro this May - took advantage of an overly complicated run-in where a twisting final kilometre threw many riders off their line.

Of the 182 kilometres from Motilla de Palancar to Almussafes close to the Meditteranean Sea, the last five were the only ones of real interest, as sprinter first Erik Zabel (Milram) punctured and then a number of riders highsided over a crash barrier in the strong cross-winds. Fortunately none appeared to have been injured.

The ?fun? then continued as a twisting final kilometre saw Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) nearly end up in the barriers and the sprint come down to a complete free-for-all.

Forster took the sprint, saving Gerolsteiner?s Vuelta in the process - on Sunday team leader Davide Rebellin failed to start and the German team are now down to just four riders - whilst Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D?Epargne-Iles Balears) - still leads.

The same day saw Kazakhs Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin, both currently in the top four overall, miss a blood test before the race.

The two were in the Astana bus heading for the start - 100 kilometres from the team hotel and timed to begin at 10 a.m. - when the UCI inspectors arrived at the hotel to carry out random tests on their squad and missed the tests.

Whilst the long-term consequences of their decision - if any - have yet to be resolved, all the 15 riders who were blood tested in Astana and French squad Ag2R were cleared to race.

Monday is the Vuelta?s second rest day.

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