Bennati takes over maillot oro
By Shane Stokes
Tom Boonen has shown he is back on top sprinting form after his cocaine positive earlier this summer, winning stage three of the Vuelta a España into Córdoba. The Quick Step rider beat Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) and Erik Zabel (Team Milram) to the line, with Koldo Fernandez De Larrea (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole) netting fourth and fifth in the mass bunch gallop.
His stage victory at the Vuelta is the first by a Belgian since Frank Vandenbroucke claimed a stage of the Spanish Grand Tour almost a decade ago, in 1999.
Bennati had picked up second in two bonus sprints and his runner-up placing on the stage lifted him clear of today's leader Alejandro Valverde in the general classification. He ended the day seven seconds ahead of the Spaniard and ten up on Boonen. His team-mate Filippo Pozzato and Egoi Martinez De Esteban are next in line in the overall standings.
Boonen was glad to be back on top of a Grand Tour podium. "Today was incredibly hot," he stated. "It was by no means an easy stage. I already partly knew the route, which has been the scene of some beautiful stages in the Ruta del Sol and la Vuelta. At the top of the climb I hit the downhill with the first group and from then I thought only about preparing the final sprint with the help of my team mates.
"I chose Bennati's wheel... Daniele is in great shape and I knew he would be the man to beat. Everything went perfectly. When Bennati started the sprint I stayed covered as much as possible, choosing the right moment to make my move."
Boonen took his fourteen win of the season and said that unlike other years, he has plenty of reserves due to missing the Tour. "As I've said already this year I'm facing the Vuelta in good condition. Usually this race represented the beginning of the end of the season for me. I always ended the Tour de France tired because of the battle for the green jersey. This year instead I'm fresh and the team is racing without much stress. This is another strong point."
He is now third in the general classification behind Bennati. The latter repeated his achievement of last year's Vuelta in grabbing the maillot oro, but was not completely happy.
"'I'm satisfied with having the golden jersey, but truthfully I would have preferred the stage win," Bennati said afterwards. "The golden jersey is a small compensation, but I already wore it last year and what I want from now on is to win stages."
For full coverage of Stage 3, click here.