Daniele Bennati stormed into 2007 by winning against star sprinters. An intestinal infection kept him from romping on the Via Roma in Milano-Sanremo, but the sprinter seems to be back in-form. The soft-spoken Italian chatted with Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown in Kortrijk, two days prior to the start of the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
"It was my Grandpa, Nino, who gave my first road bike," proclaimed Daniele Bennati, sitting down in the lobby of Lampre-Fondital team's hotel on Friday afternoon. He and his teammates had just returned from a reconnaissance of De Ronde parcours but our conversation was drifting to a recent newspaper's article with photos of his family. "I had gotten my start on BMX bikes. (A) gift from my grandpa was my first road bike; he still follows me at 84 years-old!"
'Benna' was full of enthusiasm, and he had good reason. Early this year, after winning three times against Alessandro Petacchi, one of the few racers regarded as a super-sprinter, he was struck down by an intestinal bug, but Wednesday he marked his return. The 26 year-old rider from Arezzo swooped ahead of the field to win Three Days of De Panne stage 2.
"It feels good to return and win. It was my first win after the ones in the Volta a Valenciana," Benna said. In that Spanish stage race, he commanded the bunch gallops and signaled that perhaps he could be Italy's next sprinting star. He explained that soon after he started racing in France he was sidelined by sickness. "In Paris-Nice, I was really flying. I finished second in one of the first stages. Then I was up there in the other stages, with a third and a fourth.
"(In) the penultimate stage, I had stomach pains and intestinal problems. I was no longer at 100 percent. Afterwards, I trained but I did not feel good. I had to stop for three days but, fortunately, I did not have to take antibiotics."
He was put in jeopardy for the race that all Italians dream of winning, the 300-kilometre Monument, Milano-Sanremo. "Then at Sanremo I was not myself," he continued to explain in his soft, Tuscan dialect. "Now I am still not back at my best, or with the feelings that I had in Valenciana and the first stages of Paris-Nice. I hope that I can refind these feelings for Sunday [at De Ronde], Wednesday, for Gent-Wevelgem, and then next week in Roubaix."
Read the full interview with Daniele Bennati.