Stage five of the Tour of Spain on Wednesday gave Oscar Freire (Rabobank) a rare chance to win in his home region of Cantabria – and the Spanish sprinter seized the opportunity with both hands.

The three-times World Champion tore across the finishing line at Reinosa – a mere 20 kilometres away from his home town of Torrelavega – half a bike length ahead of Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Daniele Bennati (Lampre).

All three had already won a stage apiece in the Vuelta 2007, but Freire is the first to double his score. But as he pointed out afterwards, it had been a tougher victory that it appeared.

?I was actually feeling a lot rougher than on stage three, when Bettini beat me and I finished second. But that?s sprinting, it?s not always the strongest guy who wins.?

?Today I was luckier, because I got the right spot in the final sprint – the cross-wind was coming from the left and I was the furthest rider on the right. At the same time, I didn?t get blocked in [as he had been by Bettini on stage three] and I could choose my line, so as I’m faster than him anyway, I could win.?

The long, steady first category climb of Palombrera, with its summit just 20 kilometres from the line, combined with a high average speed and strong headwind, had taken their toll on Freire?s energy reserves.

But at the same time, Palombrera also knocked out two other key sprinters – Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) – making Freire?s task that much easier. Plus, as Freire pointed out, the headwind made it harder for any breaks to stay away. His former team-mate Karsten Kroon (CSC) had been the rider who tried hardest to go clear, but the burly Dutchman, a former Tour stage winner from a long break, was reeled in almost within sight of Reinosa.

?The most important thing for me about today was winning so close to home, usually the race route in this part of Spain is too tough for that to happen.? Freire, who was joined by his son Marcus on the winner?s podium, said afterwards.

The race leader for two days before losing the gold jersey on the climb for Covadonga, Freire?s two second places and two firsts on the four Vuelta sprints so far have given him a strong lead in the points competition.

However, he rejected suggestions he might go all the way to Madrid as a result, pointing out that ?I?ve got other objectives that are more important.? With Stuttgart looming fast on the horizon, no prizes for guessing which objectives the Spaniard and former triple World Champion is referring to.

Tour of Spain stage five Cangas de Onis – Reinosa 157.4km

1 Oscar Freire (Spain) Rabobank 4-07-51
2 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre
3 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Francaise des Jeux
5 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
6 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis
7 Xavier Florencio (Spa) Bouygues
8 Josep Jufre (Spa) Predictor-Lotto
9 Rene Mandri (Est) Ag2R
10 David Garcia (Spa) Karpin-Galicia all st
150 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas at 17-33

Tour of Spain overall after five stages

1 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) Caisse D’Epargne 20-10-50
2 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 1-06
3 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC
4 Maxine Monfort (Bel) Cofidis
5 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery
6 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir all st
7 Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) at 1-28
8 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis at 1-33
9 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Karpin-Galicia at 1-36
10 Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Liquigas at 1-49
172 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas at 43-52

RELATED LINKS
Stage four: Efimkin upstages favourites in Vuelta
Stage three: Bettini bounces back with Vuelta stage win
Stage two: Freire nets stage win and Vuelta lead
Stage one: Bennati takes race lead in bunch sprint
Tour of Spain preview, including stage and team list
Astana out of 2007 Tour of Spain
Eurosport cycling TV schedule for September
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Vinokourov wins 2006 Tour of Spain overall

Official site: www.lavuelta.com.