Bennati denies Swift
Contador retains red jersey as sprinters have their day in Valladolid
Last Updated: September 6, 2012 5:21pm
Ben Swift (centre): Edged out by Daniele Bennati (left) in photo finish
Ben Swift narrowly missed out on a maiden Grand Tour victory after being edged out in a photo finish at the Vuelta a Espana on stage 18.
The Brit went early following a strong lead-out from his Team Sky squad in the final kilometres but Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) narrowly claimed the stage after both men threw their bikes at the line. Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEDGE) followed the leading pair home in third on the day.
Team Sky had set a strong pace on the run into Valladolid with the whole team on the front after the day's break had been overhauled. Danny Pate moved forward to drill the pace before Sergio Henao, Juan Antonio Flecha and finally Ian Stannard brought the race into the final kilometres.
The sprinters returned to the fore after four tough days in the mountains, with the stage allowing the overall contenders some precious respite.
With three stages remaining Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) was able to hold on to his one minute and 52-second lead following his first day in the red jersey.
Team Sky's Chris Froome was another man to finish safely in the bunch and maintained fourth overall after a fast closing period which had seen all the GC squads hit the front in a bid to position their riders.
After the stage Swift, while disappointed, was philosophical about coming so close to victory.
The Yorkshireman was quick to heap praise onto his team-mates, saying: "The team was fantastic once again and it's just a shame that I couldn't get that result for them. We definitely deserve something from this race because of the way we've been riding together throughout the entire three weeks. It's a real shame.
"As for the sprint itself, I could probably have closed the door a bit more on Bennati, but as he was near the barriers that might have been a bit unsporting. I went as hard as I could though and was just pipped at the line.
"It was super close but I knew within a split second that I'd lost. We both looked at each other immediately after but he saw my head drop and then he raised his hands.
"Although I'm disappointed today, overall my condition is good. I was very tired at the start today because I did quite a lot of work for the team yesterday on what was a very fast day. I was hurting a bit but the guys all looked after me and I really came around towards the end."
The 204.5km from Aguilar de Campoo to Valladolid may have been flatter than the previous tests but the pace still remained high as the Grand Tour wore on.
Five riders made a much easier job of making the break than in previous days - Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing), Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gustavo Cesar (Andalucia) and Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) firing off the front the moment the flag dropped.
The gap peaked at just over five minutes with Argos-Shimano controlling the peloton for much of the day in a bid to set up the most dominant sprinter of the race thus far John Degenkolb.
With their time nearly up the breakaway began attacking one another in the final 25km, Keizer the last man to be caught from the move with 16km to go as the lead-out trains took over.
A high pace caused splits in the bunch as the line neared but none of that was going to prevent a bunch finish which Swift came within centimetres of winning.