John Degenkolb celebrates after winning the 12th stage. Photo: AFP
LOGROO: Germany's John Degenkolb has won for the third time on the Vuelta a Espana as he triumphed in a sprint finish on the 166.4km 12th stage around Logrono.
Meanwhile, Spain's Alberto Contador maintained his overall lead on Thursday.
In a reduced sprint due to a crash in the closing stages, Degenkolb added to his victories in the third and fourth stages as he surged to the line ahead of Belgian Tom Boonen and Italy's Jacopo Guarnieri.
Contador stayed out of trouble to remain 20 seconds clear of compatriot Alejandro Valverde in the general classification with Britain's 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome still 1:20 back in fourth.
"I feel great, I was hoping to win but I wasn't over-confident," Degenkolb said.
"I pushed for the sprint at the right time which was fundamental. The whole team did a great job."
However, it hasn't all been plain sailing for the Team Giant-Shimano rider as Degenkolb revealed he has an infection that had caused him to struggle on Wednesday's 11th stage from Pamplona to San Miguel de Aralar.
After some demanding mountain finishes and an individual time trial on Tuesday, the forgiving flat 20.8km course around Logrono was a relief for the sprinters in the peloton.
Austrian Matthias Krizek broke clear in the first three kilometres on the first of eight laps around the course and left on his own until the last lap when the Cannondale rider was caught with 12km to go.
The battle for positioning at the front of the peloton then began to form, but there was a much smaller bunch sprint than expected after a crash left the likes of Michael Matthews and Nacer Bouhanni out of contention.
And Degenkolb took advantage to seal his eighth career Tour of Spain stage victory after winning five times back in 2012.
The race moves further west on Friday with a 188.7km ride from Belorado to Obregon.
Cadel Evans in 41st place remains the highest ranked Australian in the general classification, trailing Contador by 31:43.