Tour of Spain: Alberto Contador retains overall lead as Daniele Bennati wins stage 18
Italy's Daniele Bennati of the RadioShack-Nissan squad ended a run of four straight bunch sprint wins by Germany's John Degenkolb in the Vuelta a Espana today with a narrow victory over Britain's Ben Swift.
Spaniard Alberto Contador retained the overall lead with three stages remaining in the race.
At the end of a high-speed, four-hour dash across the plains of northern Spain, Bennati inched ahead of Swift at the end of a drawn-out sprint in Valladolid's city centre. Australia's Allan Davis was third and Degenkolb fifth.
Bennati, 31, dedicated his first victory of 2012 to Belgium's Wouter Weylandt, the previous winner of a Vuelta stage in Valladolid in 2008, who was killed in a crash during the 2011 Giro d'Italia, and to a Spanish member of his team's management who has fallen ill.
"It was a very difficult sprint and I'd like to think that Wouter helped me take the victory today," Bennati told reporters.
"He was a team mate of mine, and he gave me strength today."
Bennati, a former race leader of the Vuelta in 2007, 2008 and 2011, said his sixth stage win of his career in the Spanish Grand Tour was a result "of slowly but steadily getting better form throughout the Vuelta".
"My nickname is The Panther, and panthers can always give one last swipe of their claws in a fight," he added.
Contador remained in the overall lead, one minute 52 seconds ahead of Alejandro Valverde, with another Spaniard, Joaquim Rodriguez, in third.
"It was a fast stage, I am sure we averaged 48 kph at least," Contador, who took the lead from Rodriguez on Wednesday with a spectacular long-distance attack, told reporters.
"There was always the chance of splits in the wind so I had to be well positioned and close to the front. I'm glad it's over, one day less to go now and a day without problems."
The Saxo Bank-Tinkoff rider said he had spent much of the 204.5-km stage, the longest of the 2012 Vuelta, "thinking about how I took the lead and how perfect our tactic had been".
"I talked it over with Joaquim during the stage and to tell the truth, even though we give each other a hammering during the stages, we discuss it in a friendly manner afterwards. And that's a good thing about our sport."
After Friday's straightforward run from Penafiel to La Lastrilla, Saturday's final mountain-top stage finishes on the summit of the Bola del Mundo.
Latest in Sport
Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt: Examining the Impact of 'Taker's WWE WrestleMania return
Paul Scholes: Manchester City paid the price for not dealing with Barcelona's Sergio Busquets
Arsenal vs Monaco: Theo Walcott 'involved in spat' with fans after Champions League defeat
Paul Scholes: Jose Mourinho's attempt to influence football's decision-makers is not working. In fact, it may have backfired
Piers Morgan 'hurt' after Arsenal legend Bob Wilson questions his support for the Gunners and labels him a 'pompous individual'
- 1 Isis burns thousands of books and rare manuscripts from Mosul's libraries
- 2 Scarlett Johansson new band 'already hit with legal complaint' from another The Singles
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 5 'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
£21000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software development compa...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you wish to be part of an exciting journey ...
£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...
£21,500: Anna Woodward: The Accounts Payable team for this group is recruiting...