Germany's Andre Greipel won the 18th stage of the Tour of Italy on Thursday as Spaniard David Arroyo held onto the overall leader's pink jersey with three stages left.
The shortest non-time trial stage of the Tour over 151km from Levico Terme to Brescia came down to a sprint finish despite a two-man breakaway that had lasted for more than 100km.
Colombia sprinter Greipel edged New Zealander Julian Dean of Garmin and Liquigas's Tiziano dell'Antonia in the final dash to the line with another Kiwi Gregory Henderson of Sky in fourth.
Greipel had been expected to win a sprint finish earlier in the tour but explained that he had been hampered.
"I'm not a machine but a human being," he said. "It's because I got sick two days before the Giro that I hadn't won a stage yet but it was worth staying in the race. I've had to wait for a long time."
Following the fireworks of earlier in the week, this stage was a chance for the overall title contenders to rest their legs ahead of the next two potentially decisive mountain stages on Friday and Saturday.
"It was a pretty quiet stage," said Arroyo. "After the first hill 5km after the start, the situation was pretty much under control.
"We'll see what happens tomorrow. We don't want to let (Vincenzo) Nibali, (Ivan) Basso and (Cadel) Evans go. We'll defend the jersey."
About 20km in Oliver Kaisen of Omega Pharama-Lotto and Alan Marangoni of Colnago made a break but with the pace relatively high in the bunch due to the short stage, they never managed to open up more than a three minute gap.
That started to come down gradually over the final 50km as the sprinters teams moved to the front to make sure this break would not go all the way.
With the peloton closing in, Kaisen gave up with 4km to go but Marangoni kept battling for another 2km before he saw the train pass him.
At that point Sky were in command of the lead-out, trying to set-up Henderson for the big finish.
However, Greipel, a two-time winner of the Tour Down Under, got himself on Henderson's wheel and when he kicked for home, there was nothing anyone could do about it.
"Today was the last chance for a bunch sprint finish," said Greipel. "We took the responsibility to chase the breakaway down with Sky.
"We experienced different weather conditions today with sun, rain and wind but the course was made of wide roads with no dangerous corners, so it went well."
In the overall standings Arroyo maintained his 2min 27sec lead over Italian Basso with Australian pair Richie Porte (2:44) and world road race champion Evans (3:09) next ahead of former Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre at 4:41.
Those five are expected to contest the overall title over the next two days before Sunday's finale.
© AFP 2010
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