By Gregor Brown and Hernan Alvarez
Saturday's opening Vuelta a España stage ended in a sprint finish featuring a long anticipated re-match between Daniele Bennati and Alessandro Petacchi (Milram). The 26 year-old Bennati came out on top at the end of the 146.4km stage finishing in Vigo. With the win on opening day, Bennati also collected the maillot oro of the overall leader. Spaniard Oscar Freire (Rabobank) took second.
At the end of February, Bennati got a needed confidence boost when he outsprinted Petacchi in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. The win gave him motivation going into the season, but he was later sidelined by stomach pains during the late spring and didn't make his mark again until in the Tour de France where he proved that confidence was well founded with two stage wins.
Besides beating Petacchi, Bennati also topped fellow top sprinters Freire, Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) and Tom Boonen (Quick.Step - Innergetic). "Benna" came from a few riders back and only arrived at the front in the final meters, just in time to take the win.
The big sprinters will likely do battle again in the two more sprinter friendly stages as the race heads toward the mountains of Lagos de Covadonga.
Early Tour stages, with large packs and high-energy sprint finishes, are often perceived as dangerous, but Saturday's course drew compliments from Team CSC Director Kim Andersen. "It was a really good route and some good roads as well. Some times it can get a bit messy with a lot of tiny streets, which can cause problems in such a big race especially with a lap in a town at the end, but today's stage worked out really well and they definitely deserve credit for that," said Anderson according to the team's website, team-csc.com.
For complete coverage of the Vuelta a España stage one, click here.