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Pena Returns to Top
Story by Dan Friedell and Agence France Presse
Photos by Dan Friedell
Granada, Spain


Spaniard Miguel Angel Pena (ONCE) won the general classification in the Ruta del Sol stage race that traversed the southern Spanish province of Andalucia while Belgian Jo Planckaert (Cofidis) won the 134.7-kilometer, fifth and final stage in a sprint finish.

Pena returned from adversity to take his home region's race, the Ruta del Sol.

Pena's family is Andalucian, so his victory was particularly poignant, and his father declared, "After his crash (last summer), we never would have imagined that he would have made a comeback this emotional. I'm so proud."

Pena was gravely wounded in a crash in the 1999 Dauphiné Libéré. He fractured his femur and underwent a complicated surgery that has left his right leg 8 millimeters shorter than his left. He was out of competition for nine months prior to his return to the peloton this season.

The final stage became a battle of Andalucians, and most interestingly "Granadinos" (they're both from the Granada Province). Pena is from the town of Loja, 50 kilometers from here, and eventual second-place finisher, Francisco Cabello (Kelme-Costa Blanca), is from La Zubia, a small town just six kilometers from the finish line. To have them finish one-two was a great victory for Spanish cycling.

"To say that I am content is not enough, I'm super-content," said beaming race director Luis Cuevas. "First congratulations to Miguel Angel Pena for winning this race with his new team, and second, congratulations to ONCE and the director Manolo Saiz." He continued by saying that the two riders have made the region of Andalucia so proud. "I think we have witnessed the greatest race in the history of Granada."

Winner of the "Queen's Stage" to the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Sierra, Pena did not spend a tranquil Thursday, however. His potential successor on G.C., Cabello played his hand by attacking from kilometer 27 of the stage, in an attempt to recoup his 22-second disadvantage on Pena in the overall standings.

The challenging terrain of the route (two cols with a top-category climb situated 35 kilometers from the finish) was advantageous to the attack of Cabello--at one point his lead reached 2:40--but the ONCE squad worked the entire time to assure victory to their leader, Pena. They eventually neutralized Cabello's advantage before the finale.

On the flats prior to the finish, a number of racers tried their chances, but without success. In the final 20 kilometers of the course, Cofidis team leader Frank Vandenbroucke led the peloton, laying the groundwork for his teammate and compatriot, Jo Planckaert. The Belgian, a member of the dynastic cycling family of Planckaerts, won by a fraction over Stefano Zanini (Mapei-Quick Step) and another Belgian, Andrei Tchmil (Lotto-Adecco) in a flat-out bunch sprint.

Belgian Jo Planckaert benefited from the strong efforts of his leader Frank Vandenbroucke in the final kilometers.

Before the beginning of today's stage, Pena said that he imagined his entire family would be there to greet him at the finish. "There's no better place to have won my first race," he said amid hugs and kisses from his family while the press swarmed all over him at the stage's end.

Ruta del Sol
Stage 5
Luque to Grenada
135 kilometers

1 Jo Planckaert (Bel) Cofidis 3:12:26
2 Stefano Zanini (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step same time
3 Andrei Tchmil (Bel) Lotto same time
4 Igor Flores (Spa)   same time
5 Francisco Cerezo (Spa) Vitalicio Seguros same time
6 Nicolas Larsen (Den) Memory Card-Jack & Jones same time
7 Peter Van Petegen (Bel) Farm Frites same time
8 Jacob Pil (Den) Memory Card-Jack & Jones same time
9 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step same time
10 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Vitalicio Seguros same time

Ruta del Sol
Final general classification

1 Miguel Angel Pena (Spa) ONCE 20:48:08
2 Francisco Cabello (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca at 0:22
3 Aitor Garmendia (Spa) Banesto at 0;26
4 Peter Farazijn (Bel) Cofidis at 0:27
5 Jose Luis Rebollo (Spa) Vitalicio Seguros at 0:33
6 David Etxebarria (Spa) ONCE at 0:37
7 Frank Vandenbroucke (Bel) Cofidis same time
8 Felix Garcia (Spa) Festina at 0:48
9 Juan Manuel Mercado (Spa) Vitalicio Seguros same time
10 Michele Coppolillo (Ita) Mercatone Uno same time

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