Contador keeps Vuelta lead
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 Tour of Spain on Thursday 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 teammate of mine, and he gave me strength today."
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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.
1. Daniele Bennati(Italy/ RadioShack) 4:17:17"
2. Ben Swift(Britain/ Team Sky) ST
3. Allan Davis(Australia/ Orica)
4. Lloyd Mondory(France/ AG2R)
5. John Degenkolb(Germany/ Argos)
6. Davide Vigano(Italy/ Lampre)
7. Matti Breschel(Denmark/ Rabobank)
8. Koen de Kort(Netherlands/ Argos)
9. Mitch Docker(Australia/ Orica)
10. Gregory Rast(Switzerland/ RadioShack) +6"
11. Assan Bazayev(Kazakhstan/ Astana)
12. Elia Viviani(Italy/ Liquigas)
13. Simon Clarke(Australia/ Orica)
14. Leonardo Duque(Colombia/ Cofidis)
15. Ruben Perez(Spain/ Euskaltel)
16. Ian Stannard(Britain/ Team Sky)
17. Michel Kreder(Netherlands/ Garmin) +8"
18. Niki Terpstra(Netherlands/ Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) +9"
19. Martijn Maaskant(Netherlands/ Garmin) +10"
20. Daniel Moreno(Spain/ Katusha)
1. Alberto Contador(Spain/ Saxo Bank) 72:25:21"
2. Alejandro Valverde(Spain/ Movistar) +1:52"
3. Joaquim Rodriguez(Spain/ Katusha) +2:28"
4. Chris Froome(Britain/ Team Sky) +9:40"
5. Daniel Moreno(Spain/ Katusha) +11:36"
6. Robert Gesink(Netherlands/ Rabobank) +12:02"
7. Laurens ten Dam(Netherlands/ Rabobank) +12:55"
8. Andrew Talansky(U.S./ Garmin) +13:06"
9. Igor Anton(Spain/ Euskaltel) +13:49"
10. Benat Intxausti(Spain/ Movistar) +14:10"
11. Gorka Verdugo(Spain/ Euskaltel) +15:54"
12. Nicolas Roche(Ireland/ AG2R) +16:22"
13. Tomasz Marczynski(Poland/ Vacansoleil) +17:11"
14. Sergio Henao(Colombia/ Team Sky) +18:07"
15. Maxime Monfort(Belgium/ RadioShack) +18:12"
16. Bart De Clercq(Belgium/ Lotto) +18:18"
17. Przemyslaw Niemiec(Poland/ Lampre) +19:13"
18. Winner Anacona(Colombia/ Lampre) +20:08"
19. Rinaldo Nocentini(Italy/ AG2R) +20:24"
20. Maxime Bouet(France/ AG2R) +28:13"