Lastras sizzles in heat for stage win and lead

TOTANA, Spain,  (Reuters) – Spaniard Pablo Lastras  battled through searing heat yesterday to claim victory in the  Tour of Spain’s third stage, marking his first win in more than  three years and his first ever lead in a major Tour.  

As temperatures soared to over 40 degrees Celsius (104  Fahrenheit), the 35-year-old Movistar rider launched a solo  attack from a break of four on the final climb of the day.  

Lastras pointed to the sky repeatedly as he crossed the line  in Totana, in memory of Spanish team mate Xavi Tondo, who died  in a freak domestic accident earlier this year, and Belgian  Wouter Weylandt, who was killed in a crash in the Tour of Italy.   

Second, 15 seconds back, was French national champion  Sylvain Chavanel, with Spain’s Markel Irizar in third.   
“I treated this stage as a one-day Classic, I don’t care if  I lose 30 minutes tomorrow,” veteran Lastras, who turned pro in  1998, told reporters.   
“It was a textbook victory — attack close to the summit of  the final ascent then go all out on the last descent to open up  a gap.  
“But they say being experienced automatically gives you an  advantage in this sport, and I’ve certainly been around for  quite a while.”   
One of just three Spanish riders in the peloton, together  with Juan Manuel Garate and Alberto Contador, to have won stages  in all three major Tours, Lastras said his latest victory was  not the most important of his 13-year career.   

“My Giro d’Italia stage win in 2001 was the one that  launched my career after a lot of bad luck and that mattered the  most,” he said. “Today, though, is probably the most emotional  of them all.”   

Lastras’ late break enabled him to scoop the top spot in the  King of the Mountains, the points and the overall standings.   
The intense heat helped the peloton to shrink to just 45  riders when Team Sky picked up the pace on the final climb of La  Santa.   
Overnight leader Daniele Bennati of Italy finished 1 minute  23 seconds adrift of the other favourites, together with double  Tour of Spain winner Denis Menchov of Russia whose bike had a  mechanical problem late on in the stage.
British sprinter Mark Cavendish, dropped with 60 kilometres  to go, finished more than 12 minutes down in a large group of  stragglers.   
“He’s fine,” Cavendish’s sports director Jens Zemke told  Reuters. “But if you’re from the Isle of Man like Mark where  it’s about 20 degrees cooler than here in August, you’re always  going to suffer in this heat.”   
The Tour of Spain finishes on Sept. 11 in Madrid.

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