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Bennati wins Vuelta stage; Contador secure in red

VALLADOLID, Spain (AFP) — Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) won the 18th stage of the Vuelta a España on Thursday, a 204km ride from Aguilard de Campoo to Valladolid.

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Bank-Saxo Bank) held on to the overall leader’s red jersey.

Bennati, who had been unable to get to the front of the pack in earlier crowded finishes, managed to cross the line ahead of Ben Swift (Sky) and Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEdge). Following a tough year, in which he occasionally struggled with fitness, the 31-year-old Italian finally got back to winning ways, making a final spurt to get just ahead of Swift.

“I am really tired but very happy. This was hard work but it’s a special day,” said Bennati. “Four years ago Wouter (Weylandt) won on this finish line and for sure today he was with me. He was a good friend and good teammate and today I feel he gave me extra forces to win. I also thought of my grandfather today who passed on during training camp last winter. I dedicate this win to both of them.”

After Contador’s dramatic victory on Wednesday there were no major shake-ups to the overall standings.

The Saxo Bank rider keeps the overall lead, 1:52 ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and 2:28 ahead of Joaquim Rodríguez.

Contador was all smiles after taking a commanding lead in the overall standings on Wednesday.

“There was a bit of champagne yesterday, not too much,” he said. “In the three remaining days anything can happen. We can’t

“We had to be very careful in case the wind got up and there was a fall or breakage. We had a day with no problems, perfect.”

Wednesday’s big loser, Rodríguez, who slipped from first to third place in the overall rankings, admitted he was still disappointed.

“I slept well, but it’s true that today I thought more about yesterday’s stage than today’s.”

Five cyclists managed to break away from the group from the 10km mark.

Spaniards Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Andalucia), Dutch rider Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM), American Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) and Latvian Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) built up a lead of up to four minutes from
the peloton, but they were finally caught 15km from the line.

Meanwhile, a fall during the stage forced Linus Gerdemann of RadioShack-Nissan to retire from the race.

On Friday, the riders face a hilly, 178.4km 19th stage from Penafiel to La Lastrilla. The 21-stage Vuelta wraps up Sunday in Madrid.

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