Ben Swift was edged out by Danielle Benatti in a thrilling sprint to the line on stage 18 of the Vuelta.
After missing out on Olympic selection and failing to make an impression on the Vuelta so far, the leadout tactic by Team Sky to deliver their sprinter to the line was obviously changed with Swift released much later - and it worked.
In the closing metres the British Cycling Olympic Podium Programme athlete was able to jump clear, but Benatti got back onto his wheel, using all of his experience to dive for the line, eventually overcoming the Brit by a matter of inches.
While missing out on the win by such a small margain will come as a blow, it was a much improved sprint drill and will give confidence that when executed correctly, a stage win is possible.
In the battle for the red jersey and general classification there were no changes, with Chris Froome remaining in fourth place.
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.
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.”
1 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Radioshack-Nissan 4:17:17
2 Ben Swift (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:01
3 Allan Davis (Aus) Orica - GreenEdge
4 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
5 John Degenkolb (Ger) Argos-Shimano
6 Davide Vigano (Ita) Lampre - ISD
7 Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank Cycling Team
8 Koen De Kort (Ned) Argos-Shimano
9 Mitchell Docker (Aus) Orica - GreenEdge
10 Grégory Rast (Swi) Radioshack-Nissan 0:00:06
General classification after stage 18
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 72:25:21
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:52
3 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:28
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:09:40
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:11:36
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:02
7 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:55
8 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:13:06
9 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:13:49
10 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:14:10