Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) will ride the cobbled classics in support of teammate Fabian Cancellara in 2012 after forgoing all but Gent-Wevelgem last season. The Italian opted to end his classics campaign after his second place finish in Wevelgem last March for fear of exacerbating a nagging Achilles tendon injury on the cobbles.
“Last year, I didn’t ride the cobbled classics because I didn’t want to risk the Achilles tendon injury that I had on the pave,” Bennati told Cyclingnews. “Cance already wanted me to be there with him last season for the classics, and this time around, I’ve said ‘Cance, I’m with you for the cobbled classics, and I really want to help you win your races.’
“So all going well, I’ll be there. After San Remo, I’ll be at Harelbeke, which is WorldTour this year, then Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders, although I don’t think I’ll be at Paris-Roubaix.”
While Cancellara triumphed at the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen in 2011, he ultimately fell short at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, finishing third and second, respectively. Bennati’s role in 2012 will be to buttress his support in the finale of the cobbled classics, although before heading north, the Tuscan may also have an opportunity to unleash his sprint at Milan-San Remo.
“Fabian will certainly be the point of reference for the classics,” Bennati said. “But if we come to the finish in a bunch, I hope that I can do my own sprint. By a bunch, I mean one that’s been whittled down by a selection. And then if there’s more of a selection, as was the case last year when Fabian almost won, he would certainly be the priority, and rightly so.”
A broken collarbone ruled Bennati out of the Giro d’Italia last season, and he is looking forward to returning to his home tour for the first time since 2008, when he won two stages and brought the points jersey to Milan. He is also keen to line up at the Tour de France, even though he acknowledges that competition for places to flank the Schlecks in July will be fierce.
“If I’m useful to the team’s cause in some way, I would like to be there,” Bennati said. “But it’s also clear that it’s something bigger than me and bigger than what I want. If they ask me if I want to do the Tour, then I would say yes, also because, in terms of the Olympics, the Tour would be excellent preparation.”
In spite of his disappointing experience as leader of the Italian team at the world championships in Copenhagen, Bennati is keen to be part of Paolo Bettini’s plans for the London 2012 Olympics road race. While world champion Mark Cavendish is favoured to triumph on home roads, Bennati believes the course will be more selective than anticipated.
“I was talking to Fabian who went to look at the course and the Italians who rode the Olympic test event. Granted, that race wasn’t as long as the Olympics will be and there wasn’t much of a selection, but from what I understand the circuit isn’t that simple,” Bennati warned. “There are 35km from the final climb to the finish. There isn’t a lot of time to get back on. So while there could well be a sprint, it might not necessarily a big bunch sprint, but one of 50 riders or so. That could make it an interesting circuit, more so than the one in Copenhagen.”
Bennati begins his 2012 campaign at the Santos Tour Down Under in January, and will ride Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico as preparation for Milan-San Remo. Heading into his second season as part of the Leopard set-up, which has merged with RadioShack, Bennati said that he has enjoyed his foreign experience to date.
"I’m part of a very strong team, at the very top international level, yet at the same time there’s less stress in comparison to an Italian team, in the way of working and the way of approaching training and races. They’re taken in a different spirit. Personally speaking, I’ve found it very positive."