Italy's Daniel Bennati of Liquigas retained the overall race leader's golden jersey in the Tour of Spain after winning the 170.3km Stage 4 from Cordoba to Puertollano on Tuesday.
He finished the stage, which featured two climbs early in the route, in 4:27.45, ahead of Belgium's Tom Boonen and Spain's Koldo Fernandez. The result was a reversal of the third stage which Boonen won, coming in just ahead of Bennati.
Bennati's Liquigas team controlled the pace for the entire stage and battled for positioning with Boonen's QuickStep team in the final kilometres when the Italian pulled ahead of the Belgian in a sprint.
Several riders, including one of the favourites, Spain's Carlos Sastre, the winner of this year's Tour de France, were caught up in crashes in the last three kilometres.
Sastre was touched by other riders during the crashes but did not hit the ground.
He arrived at the finish line in the same group as the two other race favourites -- his compatriots Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour de France champion, and Alejandro Valverde, who finished second during the Tour of Spain in 2006 -- 19 seconds behind Bennati.
The fifth stage on Wednesday is an individual time trial that is set to shake up the overall standings. Contador said the heat, wind and uphill route had slowed all the riders down.
"It was a very tiring day for everyone," he said. "In fact the speed was slower for these reasons and also because many of us are thinking of the time trial tomorrow, and for many its is the first important test of thsi race, and we wanted to save our strength."
Last year's champion, Russia's Denis Menchov, is not participating. The 3,133 kilometre-long Tour of Spain finishes in Madrid on September 21.
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© BikeRadar & AFP 2008