Stage 18 of the 2012 Giro d'Italia was the last chance for the sprinters to win a stage, with the race now heading back into the mountains and closing with an individual time trail. Mark Cavendish (Sky) entered the day ahead of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in the points competition by a single point, and collecting both the intermediate sprint win and the stage victory would have gone a long way in solidifying Cavendish's hold on the points jersey. Cav managed to pick up the intermediate sprint, but in a rare event he was beaten clean at the finish line by Farnese Vini - Selle Italia's Andrea Guardini.
Intermediate sprint wins are worth 10 points in the competition, and stage wins 25. Cavendish has won three stages so far in the 2012 Giro, but crashes in the final kilometers of two stages cost him a chance at two more victories. With Rodriguez picking up stage wins in the mountains, the points competition is much closer than Cavendish would prefer. Team Sky chased down an early breakaway and Cavendish took the intermediate sprint, and they delivered him to the line in textbook fashion, but Guardini surprised everyone with a burst of speed in the final 100m and stole the stage. Guardini, an Italian, had been the butt of some jokes in the local media for his lack of a stage win in this year's Giro. He's surely redeemed himself today, as it's a rare sight to see someone beat Cavendish one-on-one. Cavendish did take second on the stage, giving him 20 points to make a total of 30 on the day. Still, with two mountain stages coming up, a 31 point lead over Rodriguez is anything but comfortable.
The GC favorites finished together in the peloton, meaning no movement in the overall standings. The provisional standings after stage 18:
1) Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 77:47:38
2) Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Barracuda -:30
3) Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale -1:22
4) Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD -1:36
5) Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling -2:56
6) Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team -3:04
7) Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox -3:19
8) Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team -4:13
9) Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team -4:38
10) Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling -4:42
The race now enters the closing stretch, where the efforts of the GC contenders in the mountains will determine the race.
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