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Cobo closes in on Spanish Vuelta win

Updated: September 10, 2011, 15:27


VITORIA, Spain (AP) Juan Jose Cobo closed in on the Spanish Vuelta title Saturday after holding on to the overall lead in the 20th stage won by Daniele Bennati of Italy.

Bennati sprinted in front of the pack in the final yards to win the 115-mile course from Bilbao to Vitoria in 4 hours, 39 minutes, 20 seconds.

"Finally the stage win has arrived,'' Bennati said. "The Vuelta has been hard from the very first day. It has been a Vuelta for climbers, and I am a sprinter. But today with my team's great job I have earned a win I've longed for.''

The 30-year-old Cobo has never won a major race, but the Spaniard had little trouble protecting his 13-second advantage over second-place British rider Christopher Froome as both finished with the same time as Bennati.

Froome's Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins is 1:39 behind.

The event closes Sunday with the traditional finish in Madrid.

"(Tomorrow) is Sky's last chance, but I hope that it will end in a celebration for me,'' Cobo said. "Mathematically, I have won nothing yet and we have to fight to the very last day.''

The day began with the escape of a large group of riders that slowly disintegrated back into the peloton.

Carlos Barredo of Rabobank attacked on the last mountain pass 28 1/2 miles from the finish, but the Spanish cyclist was caught on the outskirts of the Basque capital.

Saturday's stage was the second in the Basque country after a 33-year absence due to political unrest related to separatist group ETA, whose 40-year bloody campaign for independence has left more than 800 people dead. ETA's announcement of a cease-fire last January opened the way to the race's return to the northern Spanish region.

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