A late puncture in the first stage of the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta del Sol could not stop Daniele Bennati from winning a chaotic bunch sprint stage after jumping from one rival’s sprint train to another in the closing metres.
Mostly on teamwork duty in Tinkoff these days, where he is a valued Grand Tour and Classics domestique for Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan, it is increasingly rare for Bennati, 36, to get the opportunity to show how much speed the Italian veteran still has in his legs for a bunch sprint.
But a win in a small group dash for the line in GP Industria & Commercio di Prato last year, his first since he took a victory in Vitoria in the Vuelta a España in 2011, suggested that Bennati still is able to give much younger riders a run for their money. And after today’s fast run-in alongside the River Guadalquivir, in the tricky final kilometre, with a roundabout and a final steady right-hand curve leading the peloton right up to the edge of Seville’s world-famous Maria Luisa park, Bennati once again proved that when it came to the right combination of speed, strength and calculation to take a win, age is still no obstacle.
“I wanted to go for it in the sprint today but I got a puncture with 10 kilometres to go, and it wasn’t easy getting back to the peloton because we were going at 60 kilometres an hour,” the Tinkoff pro told a small group of reporters afterwards.
“A team-mate, [Nikolay] Trusov, waited for me and he did a brilliant job, bringing me right to the front of the bunch with three kilometres to go.
“I got in behind the Movistar line” - working for local sprinter Juan Jose Lobato - “and then the TopSport Vlaanderen line to the last kilometre. Then before the final roundabout I looked up and saw the finishing gantry in the distance so I made sure I was the first out of the roundabout and then went for it in the final sprint.”
“I was aware that [Juan Jose] Lobato was right behind me and I was pretty worried about him, but finally I could make it to the line,” Bennati said.
Eighth in the Dubai Tour after taking eighth on the toughest stage to Hatta Dam strongly suggested that Bennati’s underlying form was good. “I’ve had a good winter in Gran Canaria, I’m very motivated. Ok, so I’m 36 and my normal work is for Alberto and Peter [Sagan], but I’ve won a lot of races in my career, and it’s always good to win some more.”
Bennati has also scooped up the top spot overall, his first lead in a stage race since he briefly held onto the race lead of the Vuelta a España back in 2011, and also holds onto first place in the points competition and the ‘combined’ jersey classification.
Local favourite Lobato (Movistar), who snapped up two stages in last year’s Vuelta a Andalucia, said he was disappointed not to have won on home soil but nonetheless felt encouraged by his third place. He would have another good chance in Thursday’s stage to Cordoba with a third category climb of Tressieras close to the finish.
“I’ve made it onto the podium and that’s a good sign. It’s quite a hilly finale so hopefully that’ll make for fewer riders for the sprint and I’ll have a better chance of getting a good line,” Lobato said afterwards.
“I know tomorrow’s final climb, we’ve been up it several times in the Vuelta a España, I think,” Bennati observed. “I remember it was after we’d gone over that climb that [John] Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) won in the 2014 Vuelta.” [NB - It isn’t the same climb, that was the Alto de Catorce PorCien in the 2014 Vuelta. But Thursday’s third category climb, the Alto de Tressieras in the same sierra outside Cordoba as the 2014 Vuelta climb and has a similar profile and difficult descent - Ed.] “So if it was hard to race in September, this’ll be even harder now. But my condition’s good, so we’ll see what happens. And we’ve got [team-mates Roman] Kreuziger and Rafal [Majka] who want to go for the overall here, so with the leader’s jersey, I think we’ll try to keep the race under control.
“If I can get over the climb, that’s great. If not, we’ve got Oscar Gatto and Jay McCarthy, who’s already won a stage in the Tour Down Under, and they’re both in excellent condition.”