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Gavazzi wins 18th stage as Cobo keeps Vuelta lead

Updated: September 08, 2011, 14:00

Geox rider Juan Jose Cobo from Spain, wearing the overall leader's red jersey, reacts on the podium after the 18th stage of the Spanish Vuelta cycling race over 174.6 kilometers (108.4-mile) starting in Solares and ending in Noja, Spain, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Juan Manuel Serrano Arce)

NOJA, Spain (AP) Francesco Gavazzi of Italy swept past his lone challenger to win the 18th stage of the Spanish Vuelta, and Juan Jose Cobo kept the overall lead.

Gavazzi hung close to the wheel of Kristof Vandewalle before going inside on the final stretch of a sprint finish, passing his Belgian opponent to win the 108.5-mile stage in 4 hours, 24 minutes, 42 seconds for Lampre-ISD.

The next seven cyclists all crossed seconds behind while the main group that included Cobo and his closest challenger, Christopher Froome of Britain, finished 7:42 back.

Cobo remained 13 seconds ahead of Froome and 1:41 better than Bradley Wiggins, Froome's Sky teammate.

"No doubt Sky will try attacking one of these days, maybe tomorrow,'' the Spanish rider said. "We'll try our best to defend.''

Friday's 98.5-mile stage will take the riders from Noja to Bilbao - the first time in 33 years the Spanish classic has raced in the Basque Country.

The 66th edition of the event continues in the north coast region Saturday before the 21st and final stage wraps with the traditional finish in Madrid on Sunday.

Organizers announced Thursday that the 67th edition would start from Pamplona, the city best known for its annual Running of the Bulls festival in early July.

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