The soft-spoken Daniele Bennati blasted his way on the big stage with a stage victory in southern France. He had been building to this day for years by leading-out Cipollini, winning in stages in smaller races and this year battling against super-sprinters Petacchi and Boonen. Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews was in Castelsarrasin to witness 'Benna' secure his first Tour de France win.
Bennati headed into this Tour de France with an eye on the maillot vert of best sprinter and a stage win, however, his chances for the points competition tumbled to the ground when he was the victim of an unfortunate crash on stage two, putting him out of the running for green and into survival mode. When his best finish in the bunch kick proved to be a third place on stage five in Autun, the Italian switched his tactic to targeting a win from a small escape. He made the break on stage 11 and stage 15, but both days his escape was brought back before the finish.
On Wednesday morning, he told Cyclingnews he was determined to try again. "Tomorrow and the next day will be hard to have the race arrive in a sprint, but maybe I can arrive with a bella fuga [a good escape group]. Especially in a proper escape, many times the escapes come to nothing," he explained. By Thursday evening, he had achieved his dream after he made the winning along with his Lampre team-mate Daniele Righi just 12 kilometres outside of Pyrenean foothill town of Pau.
"We know that in the third week it is difficult to arrive in a sprint; it is very difficult," stated Bennati after his win on stage 17 of the early stage battles that go on for the bella fuga of the day. "I knew that to get in an escape would be very hard but I got in one today. I entered one with riders who are very strong. Up to the 91st kilometres, there were only two minutes. We rode 90 kilometres all out, without letting up."