By Gregor Brown
Daniele Bennati is a steadily rising force in the bunch sprints. The Lampre-Fondital rider has a string of important wins to his name and is ready to take the next step: a sprint-win in the Tour de France.
The Italian is building for the Tour de France, having taken some time away from the bike after completing the Classics season. The 26 year-old proved he's back in-form with a series of second places at the Tour de Suisse, after recovering from an intestinal infection that hampered his spring campaign.
Bennati placed second in the Swiss Prologue, behind Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC), again on Stage 1, behind Erik Zabel (Milram), and a third time on Stage 5, this time behind Australian Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto). The trio of top placings may not have been victories but the sprinter hopes they are a springboard for a first Tour stage victory.
"I think my condition is pretty good and I am recovering," admitted Bennati of his form. "I have had a couple of soft days [since Suisse] and this form should help me for [this weekend's Italian] Championships and then on to the Tour. My condition is pretty good."
Three wins against Alessandro Petacchi, one of the few racers regarded as a super-sprinter, left Bennati full of enthusiasm early in the season. Despite battling with the intestinal problems he picked up victory on Three Days of De Panne's Stage 2 and helped Ballan win Ronde van Vlaanderen. While some would be disappointed after a triple bridesmaid finish like Bennati's Suisse campaign, he's just delighted with his quick return to the peloton's pointy end after a touch-and-go spring campaign.
"It would have been better to have a victory, but considering the problems I had before, I have come out of Switzerland with more confidence," he admitted. "I am content because I did not think that I would arrive at the front so soon. The victory did not arrive, but I felt good with my form."
One of those near misses in Switzerland was behind McEwen, an 11 time Tour de France stage winner. Bennati considers the Australian to be one of the strongest rivals he will face at this year's Tour. "The rivals will be McEwen, [Tom] Boonen, [Alessandro] Petacchi, [Thor] Hushovd... there will be a lot!" laughed the Italian.
To read the complete interview, click here.