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06/09/12 - 11:34
Aguilar de Campoo - Valladolid
Vuelta a España • Stage18

Aguilar de Campoo - Valladolid

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"This win is for Wouter Weylandt, who last won here four years ago." Classy touch from Daniele Bennati there.


It was all in the bike throw - the Italian kept on pedalling and then pushed forward over the line. Experience wins the day as Swift is denied by the veteran sprinter. Allan Davis takes third.


From above it looks like Swift has it but then Bennati comes though fast at the end and takes the win!


Degenkolb is totally out of it, way off the pace. Swift looks strong but Bennati is coming back... PHOTO FINISH!


Ian Stannard, the British national champion, leads the peloton around the final tight 90-degree bend...


GreenEdge come forward for their man Allan Davis. We haven't had one of these bunch sprints for what seems like an eternity!


Still Sky setting the tempo with 2km to go. Argos are quite far back, but are easing their way up alongside Liquigas.


Daniele Bennati (RadioShack), Elia Viviani (Liquigas) and Ben Swift (Sky) are all without a win - as are their teams... They will do their best to beat John Degenkolb (Argos Shimano) today, who has already won four.


The peloton is strung out incredibly now: from above it's about 400m long! We just had the second intermediate sprint, which was won by Angel Vicioso of Katusha ahead of Robert Gesink of Rabobank. No change in the green jersey standings.


Sky are back on the front. This is a very fast approach to Valladolid.


To beat someone like Degenkolb, Swift really needs a strong lead out. Perhaps today's the day. Now Rabobank come forward - they have Lars Boom and Matti Breschel.


The peloton has split into two, with a group of around 30 riders strung out in pursuit of a densely-packed leading group. Team Sky are driving the pace. They want a win for Ben Swift and have six riders on the front.


These vast open desert-like plains are more reminiscent of the Vueltas we used to see. It has to be said, the organisers did a crackign job with the route this year - both with the challenging nature of the parcours, but also the scenary.


It looks fairly nervous on the front of the peloton as they pass under the 15-to-go banner. They're on a large exposed plain but wind is not an issue. Green jersey Joaquim Rodriguez was riding on the front just now, but has eased off, alllowing Rabobank through.


News has come in that RadioShack's Linus Gerdemann was forced to abandon after that crash.


Astana's Andrey Kashechkin is on the front of the pack for a slight rise - for no obvious reason. When he peels off, he almost takes out Uzbek champion Sergey Lagutin of Vacansoleil.


The five escapees seem to have sat up. RadioShack are fronting the peloton, with Movistar and Liquigas right there too. Keizer seems to be the last rider to give in: the Dutchman tries to pull out a lead in front, solo, but then calls it a day.


Gatis Smukulis is setting the pace for the five leaders, with Luis Angel Mate right in his wheel. Gustavo Cesar counter attacks from the back - but all this nervous attacking is very futile. The bunch is riding at 20 seconds and their time out ahead is coming to an end.


The breakaway riders are beginning to look at each other and put in attacks as their lead comes crashing down. It's less than 30 seconds now. Martijn Keizer responds to an acceleration by Bookwalter and has a pop off the front, but he's reeled in.


Team Sky are beginning to come to the fore. Remember, they have Ben Swift - and given Chris Froome's fall down the GC, they can put all their eggs in Swift's basket today. Sky are, of course, still looking for their first stage win in the 2012 Vuelta...


Liquigas have taken up the pace-setting following that crash for RadioShack's Gerdemann. The gap is down to less than a minute now.


Quintana is back on his bike but receiving treatment from the race doctor. Quintana has been inspirational for team-mate Valverde in the mountains - and he'll definitely be needed en route to Bola del Mondo on Saturday. Gerdemann is still collecting himself after that fall.


It looks like that crash came after Gerdemann hit a traffic cone on the road. Cimolai and Jeannesson are up and back on their bikes, but both Gerdemann and Quintana need a bit more treatment.


BIG CRASH: Carlos Quintana (Movistar) and Linus Gerdemann (RadioShack) have gone down hard. There's a Lampre rider there too. It's Davide Cimolai. And Arnold Jeannesson of FDJ.


Argos, RadioShack, Rabobank and Saxo Bank are all pretty prevalent on the front of the peloton. This morning, Saxo Bank manager told Eurosport: "The plan was to be alert and ready, if the possibility was there. Katusha didn't pay enough attention and the peloton was tired. We saw a possibility to attack and for us it was a perfect situation. The race is never over until Madrid. We have to be careful and stay focused."


Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) took the first intermediate sprint ahead of Brent Bookwalker (BMC) and Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis). It has no bearing on the points classification, which Rodriguez leads by 11 points over Valverde.


Joaquim Rodriguez will be putting on a brave face today, digging deep into his suitcase of courage after losing his seeing the second Grand Tour of this season slip through his grasp.


Both Brent Bookwalker and Gatis Smukulis need some mechanical assistance from their team cars too. The gap is now just under two minutes.


Today's stage may be a bit of a snore-fest but the fans on the side of the road are lapping it up: great turn out today. The gap is 2:42 and Gustavo Cesar needs some mechanical assistance for the sesond time. Andalucia are without a win in this year's race - unlike their Spanish colleagues Caja Rural, who got that stage scalp from Antonio Piedra on the weekend.


The average speed for the third hour of racing today way 48.2 km/h. The gap is 3:15 for the five leaders, with the first intermediate sprint coming up in about 15km.


The temperature is up to 30 degrees Celsius on this long, largely flat stage. The leaders have 2:45 over the peloton as they pass a sign that marks 30km to Valladolid. The riders will pass the finish with around 37km remaining before heading off on a long loop around town. These loops are all the rage in this year's Vuelta - understandably, for they give the fans two chances to see their idols.


The lead is dropping gradually. It's now just above three minutes. A reminder of today's five breakaway riders: Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Gustavo Cesar (Andalucia) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC).


One of John Degenkolb's main sprint rivals is Italian track specialist Elia Viviani, who this morning said: "I suffered a lot on the third successive day in the mountains but thanks to the rest day, my legs feel much better. Yesterday I took things easy with today in mind. I want to do as good as I can, but Degenkolb has already shown that he is the strongers sprinter on the race. While his team will have to control the race, the fact that he has so many wins already takes the pressure off."


The leaders are approaching the feeding zone with a four-minute lead over the peloton. It's fair to say, this stage is compensating for all the drama we had yesterday by keeping well and truly to the script.


The average speed for the second hour of racing was once again very high: 49.1km/h. It's 29 degrees and the gap is 3:47.


At the start of today's stage John Degenkolb, one of the favourites for the win, said: "I feel good. I've survived a tough week in the mountains and I'm in good form, which gives me confidence to win more stages. The team spirit is very high too." The German youngster has already won four stages in the race - and is hoping to make it six with wins here and in Madrid.


Gustavo Cesar needs some mechanical assistance and slips back to his Andalucia team car from the break. The gap is still around the four-minute mark for the five escapees, and the temperature is up to 29 degrees.


In other news today, both Cadel Evans (BMC) and Andy Schleck (RadioShack) have decided to end their seasons early. Both riders have had pretty torrid years: Evans suffered with illness (a sinus infection) and form in the build up to the Tour de France and was unable to defend his title to the best of his ability, while Schleck broke a bone in his pelvis during the Dauphine and was forced out of both the Tour and Vuelta.


It's Thomas Dekker's 28th birthday today. The Dutch rider is competing in his first Grand Tour for Garmin-Sharp since serving a two-year doping ban. The gap is down to 3:52 for the five leaders.


The gap is 4:20 for the five escapees, who broke clear right at the start of today's long stage.


Bizarrely, given today's stage is so long, both the intermediate sprints come towards the end of the stage and inside the last 40km. Argos Shimano will look to reel in the break by then: John Degenkolb is currently fourth in the green jersey standings, 68 points behind Joaquim Rodriguez. But if he can take maximum points today, some more tomorrow, and then yet again on the final stage to Madrid, he could feasibly over turn the deficit.


The gap is down to 4:45 with RadioShack and Argos Shimano forming an alliance on the front of the peloton: it will be no love lost, for later on, they'll no doubt be at each other's throats as their men do battle for the sprint victory. Spain's Jesus Rosendo (Andalucia) needs to see the medical car off the back of the peloton.


The final rider in this break is 28-year-old American Brent Bookwalter, who like Smukulis is also a Vuelta debutant. Bookwalter is a former U23 national time trial champion and in 2010 he finished both the Giro and Tour for BMC. He made quite a ripple on his first Grand Tour appearance, finishing the prologue of the 2010 Giro in second place - pipped by Bradley Wiggins by just two seconds.


The average speed for the first hour of racing today was a ferociously quick 50.5 km/h. The gap is up to 5:15 for the five escapees.


Katusha's Gatis Smukulis, 25, is the current Latvian national time trial champion and is making his debut appearance in the Vuelta. Last year he won the opening stage of the Volta a Catalunya from a bunch sprint while at the now-defunt HTC team.


Dutchman Martijn Keizer, 24, was one of the most aggressive riders in May's Giro d'Italia, where he was ever present in numerous breaks. The Vacansoleil rider won the Boucles de l'Aulne race in 2011 and is riding his second Vuelta.


The RadioShack team of Daniele Bennati have come to the front of the peloton to help Argos Shimano with the pace setting. They are still looking for a win in this year's race. The temperature is up to 27 degrees and the gap is now 4:40.


The second Spaniard in this group is Gustavo Cesar of Andalucia, a 32-year-old climber riding his fifth Vuelta. In 2009, Cesar won stage nine while at Karpin-Galicia. He also won the Volta a Catalunya in 2008. A native Galician, Cesar's name was painted on many roads throughout the second week of the race - in particular during the time trial.


Let's take a closer look at the leaders. Luis Angel Mate was involved in the break in stage four on the way to Valdezcaray, won by Simon Clarke. The five-man break held a lead of 13 minutes at one point and it looked like Mate was going to ride into the red jersey before Sky blew things apart and reduced the deficit. 28-year-old Mate joined Cofidis in 2011 and has never won a stage on a Grand Tour before. This year he won both the sprint and mountain classification in the Vuelta a Andalucia.


The gap is up to 4:35 for the leaders. This morning at the start, third-place Joaquim Rodriguez was in a stoic mood half a day after losing the race lead. "It's the competition. What happened yesterday is what makes cycling so spectacular," he said, putting on a brave face. Earlier this season, the Spaniard wore the Giro's pink jersey on the final day of the race before losing the title to Ryder Hesjedal after the Canadian put in a stronger time trial.


The Argos Shimano team of John Degenkolb come to the front of the peloton to control the tempo. They will not want the break to carve out too much of a lead because their man is the favourite to take the stage - his fifth of the race. The win would also reinvigorate his green jersey crusade. The gap is now just over four minutes.


The break is combining well and the lead is up to 2:48 for the five escapees.


A reminder of the jerseys: Alberto Contador, the new race leader, is in red; Joaquim Rodriguez, the old race leader, is in green; Simon Clarke, who was never race leader, is in the blue polka dots; Alejandro Valverde, who was - a long time ago - race leader, is in the white combined.


This break is a bit of a league of nations: two Spaniards, a Latvian, an American and a Dutchman. They have 1:20 now.


The leading break of five riders - Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Gustavo Cesar (Andalucia) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC) - has 1:12 over the peloton, which is being led by Caja Rural, the second tier Spanish team.


The five escapees have come together, giving this break a better chance of success.


Ukraine's Kvachuk drops back to the peloton but Cesar is joined by Brent Bookwalter of BMC. Lampre are really having a terrible Vuelta - they have achieved pretty much zilch, and their main man, Damiano Cunego, has hardly been sighted.


The tree leaders have 11 seconds over the chasing duo and 23 seconds over the peloton. These five riders will have to come together if they want this break to work. They could perhaps do with some more bodies too - this is, after all, a very long stage...


Spain's Gustavo Cesar (Andalucia) pings off the front in pursuit of those three leaders and takes Lampre's Oleksandr Kvachuk with him.


ATTACK: Right away we have three riders on the offensive - Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Gatis Smukulis (Katusha).


They're off! The longest stage of the 67th edition of the Vuelta a Espana is under way. One thing is certain: there won't be as many fireworks as yesterday's wonderful stage...


At the sign in this morning, Alberto Contador was spotted giving his good friend Paolo Tiralongo a big hug. The pair combined yesterday when Contador put in his decisive attack. "It has been an unforgettable Vuelta for everyone," said the new red jersey. The sun is out and it's 22 degrees Celsius. We're about to get underway...


The remaining riders roll through the neutral zone at the start of today's stage. We have 179 riders left in the race following yesterday's withdrawals of Dutch pair Rob Ruijgh (Vacansoleil) and Joost van Leijen (Lotto Belisol). The latter was the lanterne rouge of the race. In his absence today, the last rider on GC is also the first ever Chinese rider to take part in the Vuelta: Cheng Li of Argos Shimano. He's three hours and 48 minutes down on Alberto Contador...


Contador now leads the race by 1:52 over Valverde while Rodriguez drops to third, 2:28 in arrears. Chris Froome suffered another off day and is now almost 10 minutes in arrears in fourth place.


Yesterday, Spain's Alberto Contador turned the race on its head with a sensational solo win in Fuente De to wrest the race lead from compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez in devastating fashion. A tactical masterclass from Contador and his Saxo Bank team-mates saw the Spaniard take the hilly 187km stage from Santander by six seconds over Alejandro Valvarde and a huge two minutes and 37 seconds over a faltering Rodriguez after a daring attack on the penultimate climb of the day, 50km from the finish.


Welcome to live coverage of stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana, the longest stage of the race with a 204.5km largely flat run from Aguilar de Campoo to Valladolid that has John Degenkolb's name written all over it.