The judges had to study the photo finish pictures to split Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) and Mark Cavendish (High Road) to decide the winner of stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia in Carpi.

In the end, Bennati got it ? giving him his third stage win of this year’s Giro.

It was a hectic finish with numerous corners before a finish that took place on a cobbled road in the town of Carpi.

With rain falling during the stage, the riders were fortunate it was not still wet at the finish as the cobbles could have been treacherous.

Cavendish’s High Road team-mate and Madison world championship partner Bradley Wiggins gave a text book lead-out from a couple of kilometres out.

Wiggins used his team pursuit skills to lead out the bunch with Cavendish on his wheel. The pace was high enough that by the time he peeled off with about 700 metres to go the favourites had not choice but to open up the sprint.

Alberto Ongarato of Milram went for it first but then as they took the final corner, Bennati jumped and gained a gap.

Cavendish left himself with a lot to do but his speed over the cobbles was phenomenal. He closed down Bennati, then drew level and finally thrust his bike forward for the line. He could have done no more.

The television pictures were inconclusive and the margin of victory was less than the width of a tyre.

The jury gave the verdict to Bennati.Quick Step’s Giovanni Visconti finished in the bunch and kept the pink jersey.

?I thought I?d lost it and neither of us celebrated but then the judges told me I won it by just three centimetres. I?ve lost sprints like that in the past but this time I won it,? Bennati said.

?Cavendish?s High Road team did a great job but I took advantage of their work. The finish was very dangerous with all the corners and it would have been treacherous if it had rained.?

?I wanted to go into the last corner first. It?s not always easy when you do that but I don?t like taking risks, I?m not one who likes to fight, so I went a bit early. I put it into the 12 sprocket for the corner but then put it back in the 11 for the sprint.?

?It meant I had to do a long sprint but it was the best tactic. If I?d been behind Cavendish I would have lost because he?s the fast sprinter in the world in the last 50 metres of a sprint.?

Bennati has now won three sprints in this year’s Giro d’Italia but praised Cavendish.

?The first time I sprinted against him was in the Tour of Romandie. Some people have said he?s a bit dangerous but I?ve never seen him do anything wrong,” he said.

“He?s young but he?s one of the best strongest sprinter out there now. In the last few days I?ve noticed he?s even improved on the climbs.?

Friday 13th stage offers Bennati a chance to win a fourth sprint but Cavendish has promised to win by three metres to make it clear who has won.

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: STAGE 12 RESULTS
1. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas 172km in 4hours 5min 29secs
2. Mark Cavendish (GB) Team High Road
3. Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence-Lotto
4. Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
5. Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
6. Robert Forster (Ger) Gersolsteiner
7. Luciano Pagliarini (Bra) Saunier Duval
8. Assan Bazayev (Kaz) Astana
9. Alexandre Usov (Blr) ag2r
10. Alexander Serov (Rus) Tinkoff all same time.
British
47. Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld
57. Bradley Wiggins (GB) High Road
117. Steven Cummings (GB) Barloworld
145. David Millar (GB) Slipstream all at same time
159. Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 1min 39secs

OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 12
1. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Quick Step in 53hours 5min 46secs
2. Gabriele Bosisio (Ita) LPR at 5min 50secs
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 6min 59secs
4. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre at 7min 52secs
5. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana 7min 54secs
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 8min 4secs
7. Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) LPR at 8min 9secs
8. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval 8min 32secs
9. Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR at 8min 33secs
10. Gustav Erik Larsson (Swe) CSC at 8min 33secs
British
77. David Millar (GB) Slipstream at 44min 53secs
109. Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld at 1hour 10min 34secs
118. Steven Cummings (GB) Barloworld at 1hour 14min 54secs
126. Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 1hour 20min 42secs
149. Mark Cavendish (GB) High Road at 1hour 38min 4secs
155. Bradley Wiggins (GB) High Road at 1hour 42min 12secs

imageBradley Wiggins gets a shove back to speed

imagePaolo Bettini and Erik Zabel enjoy a snack

imageAlberto Contador

imageAs close as it gets: today’s winner was decided by a photo finish, with MArk Cavendish (r) losing out to Daniele Bennati

All photos by Graham Watson

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Stage 11: Bertolini wins hilly stage
Stage 10: Bruseghin wins Giro d’Italia time trial
Stage nine: Cavendish misses out in sprint
Stage eight: Ricco wins again
Stage seven: Di Luca, Ricco and Contador gain time on rivals
Stage six: Italians clean up
Stage five: Millar denied by snapped chain
Stage four: Cavendish wins
Stage three: Bennati romps home
Stage two: Ricco wins Giro d’Italia second stage
Stage one TTT: Slipstream wins Giro team time trial

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: NEWS
Can Cavendish win the Giro today? [stage 12]
Aggressive Cummings comes away empty handed [stage six]
Millar speaks out after missing out in Giro [stage five]
Reaction to Cavendish’s Giro stage win
Cav hits back at Pozzato’s snipe
Cavendish: This is my biggest win [stage four]
Millar celebrates Slipstream Giro d’Italia success
Bettini looking for final Giro glory
Astana’s troubled build-up to the Giro
Petacchi banned for Salbutamol positive
Yates and Astana make last minute rush to Giro

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: PHOTOS
Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery, week two – new photos added daily
Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery, week one.

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: FEATURES
Giro d’Italia 2008: Rest day review (May 19)
Rest day 1: How the favourites are doing
Giro Britannia part two: From rule Britannia to cruel Britannia
Tuesday Comment (May 13): Why Cavendish is a bona fide world-class star
Giro Britannia: how the Brits are doing in Italy
Giro d’Italia 2008 preview
Giro d’Italia 2008: who will win?
Giro d’Italia 2008: The British are coming
Giro d’Italia on Eurosport: TV schedule