This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) sprinted to victory on stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana from Aguilar de Campoo to Valladolid, pipping Ben Swift (Team Sky) to the line. Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEdge) finished third while there was no change in the overall standings with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank) retaining his lead in the general classification.
Bennati, who had gone a year without a victory, his last coming on stage 20 of the Vuelta last year, used his experience to time his sprint to perfection in the final 300 meters, allowing Allan Davis and Swift to position themselves on the front before coming through in the final few meters to win by less than half a wheel. The Italian dedicated the win to the late Wouter Weylandt, the last winner of a Vuelta stage in Valladolid in 2008.
John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), winner of four Vuelta stages in this year’s race, found himself blocked in with 200 meters remaining and despite a late charge the German was forced to settle for 5th on the stage.
After yesterday’s dramatic events stage 18 gave the sprinters their first opportunity to shine since the start of the third week. Three stages in the mountains had clearly tired the peloton but with the majority of the Vuelta teams still on the hunt for a stage win attacks were still expected.
The day's breakaway went early
As soon as the flag dropped, several riders took off and three of them stayed away, to be joined moments later by two more. Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM), Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Andalucia) built up a lead of 4:50 as they raced across the Spanish plains but with Sky and RadioShack still hunting for their first stage wins there was little chance of the break succeeding.
There was little action for much of the stage, as the quintet stayed ahead with a gap that tended to hover around the 3:30 mark.
With 33km to go, the sprinters' teams had turned serious and brought the gap down to about 1:30. Shortly thereafter a crash in the middle of the road brought down several riders, including Movistar's Nairo Quintana and Linus Gerdemann of RadioShack-Nissan. Quintana was able to shake off an apparent hand injury, but Gerdemann had to abandon the race with unknown injuries.
The lead quintet tried to stay away and when it became obvious that that strategy wouldn't work, they all tried to get away individually. That didn't work either, and with the lack of co-operation helping the peloton gather them in again, with about 17km to go the deed was done.
That led to the tempo being picked up enormously. The field split, although it came partially back together a bit later, and it looked as if the wind might finally play a role. Katusha jumped to the head of things with Joaquim Rodriguez himself taking a turn in front, leading to speculation that he was planning a move.
It didn't happen, though. The only effect was that a Katusha rider jumped for the intermediate sprint, to keep the points out of Degenkolb’s hands.
Sky was determined to take the win today, and drove much of the last kilometers, setting a very high pace. Swift had a perfect set up and went in the wind at 200 meters – perhaps too soon. Bennati charged up from behind and was able to grab the win by a whisker.
Contador is the man to beat