The age and and experience of Daniele Bennati (Radioshack-Nissan) was too much for Ben Swift (Sky) on stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana. But only just.
The 32 year-old Italian came around the Yorkshireman with metres left to race and timed his bike throw to perfection to claim the honours as Swift tired.
Vuelta sprint sensation John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) was caught on the wrong side of a small split which opened up out of the final corner and could only finish fifth, despite a fierce final surge.
There was no change in the general classification as Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) finished in the bunch.
Time for a break
Yesterday it took nearly two hours for the break to form, today it took scarcely two minutes. The peloton were clearly in no mood to chase as five riders broke clear from the gun.
Gustavo Cesar (Andalucia), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC) stayed clear until the bunch reeled them in with 20km to go.
The riders had switched to their deep section wheels as they traversed the expansive, featureless plains approaching Valladolid and it was Katusha that drove the pace leading into the final approach. Keen not to fall victim to their own medicine, Saxo Bank duly took up position with Contador in tow to keep the race leader out of trouble.
Team Sky, absent from the cameras yesterday, reprised their position at the head of the bunch as they led out for Swift. It was British Champion Ian Stannard that guided Swift into the final run to the line as a number of sprinters saw their chances disappear behing a small but significant gap.
Swift looked to have just done enough to hold on for victory but the crafty Italian Bennati lunged with his bike to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The win was his first in almost a year; his last race win came at the Vuelta last year, where he won stage 20.
Tomorrow’s stage 19 takes riders on a 178km trip to La Lastrilla over much the same terrain as today, although a gradual rise to the line over the final 5km could see the chances of a bunch sprint hang in the balance.
Vuelta a Espana 2012, stage 18: Aguilar de Campoo – Valladolid, 204.5km
1. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Radioshack-Nissan 4h 17-17
2. Ben Swift (GBr) Sky
3. Allan Davis (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale
5. John Degenkolb (Ger) Argos-Shimano
6. Davide Vigano (Ita) Lampre-ISD
7. Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank
8. Koen De Kort (Ned) Argos-Shimano
9. Mitchell Docker (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge all at s.t.
10. Gregory Rast (Sui) Radioshack-Nissan at 6 secs
Overall standings after stage 18
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 72h 25-21
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 1-52
3. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 2-28
4. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at 9-40
5. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 11-36
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 12-02
7. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank at 12-55
8. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp at 13-06
9. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 13-49
10. Benat Inxausti (Spa) Movistar at 14-10
Daniele Bennati narrowly beats Ben Swift
Swift rues a missed chance
Alberto Contador maintains lead