Remember Luca Paolini, the winner of two stages (to Sheffield and London) in last year?s Tour of Britain? The 29-year-old Italian Classics specialist – who took the points jersey in the 2005 T. of B. thanks to his two wins – romped home in first place on stage 12 of the Vuelta on Thursday, his first ever victory in a three-week Tour.
Now with Liquigas, Paolini is expected to be an integral part of the Italian line-up in the World Championships on September 24th in Salzberg and at the tricky stage 12 finish in Guadalajara, he showed exactly why.
The Milan-born rider went clear from a 12-man break four kilometres from the finish to outgun Belgian Bert Dockx (Davitamon-Lotto) and the rider he is supposed to be leading in Austria, Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) by five seconds.
It was Liquigas second win of the Vuelta after Danilo Di Luca took a mountain top victory in the first week (as well as moving into the lead), and Paolini said it had been no easy matter shaking off the remainder of the move.
?There were a lot of dangerous sprinters in that break, including Bettini, of course, so I knew I had to shake them off or forget about winning.? he said.
?Fortunately I succeeded, and I could dedicate my first major Tour stage win.? – complete with a rather bizarre kissing gesture as he crossed the line – ?to my wife.?
Paoloin insisted that whilst he was happy to show Bettini a clean pair of wheels in the Vuelta, in the World Championships where they?ll be on the same team, he?ll be happy to work for ?Il Grillo?.
?Paolo?s our leader, for sure, we?ll have a big meeting just before the World?s to sort everything out and then we?ll be happy to work for him.? Paolini said.
Overall leader Alejandro Valverde finished safely in the main bunch around nine minutes down, saying that his biggest problem all day had been ?avoiding getting wet.?
?We?ve had rain for two days now, and after so much dry weather it makes the road surfaces greasy dangerous. But other than that, I?m ok.?
Friday?s 180 kilometre stage 13 from Guadalajara to Cuenca could see yet another breakaway: there is a third category climb – which will feature again in the decisive time trial on Saturday – close to the finish through the streets of Cuenca, complete with cobbled section.
If it?s raining, the twisting, ultra-fast descent back into the city to the finish could prove very dangerous. Previous winners in Cuenca back on this year?s race include Erik Zabel (Milram) and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole).