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Denis Menchov rolled into Madrid on the final stage of the 2007 Vuelta a España as the overall...
Denis Menchov (Rabobank)
Denis Menchov rolled into Madrid on the final stage of the 2007 Vuelta a España as the overall winner for the first time in his career, but also as a two-time Vuelta champion. The quiet Rabobank rider was understated in his celebrations after winning the race by more than three minutes ahead of Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Samual Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who was third overall.
"This is the biggest success of my career," said the quiet Russian, who has ridden for Rabobank since 2005. Menchov, who lives in Pamplona, Spain, was also awarded the victory in the 2005 Vuelta after Roberto Heras' doping disqualification. "But you can't compare that with the win today," he said.
Menchov was usually seen during the race with a stoic and calm expression, showing his emotion only Saturday after the time trial, when he could finally be 100 percent sure that he would win the race. His team-mate Koos Morenhaut said, "Denis is always a little reserved but surely he must have quickly figured out that he was clearly the best man in the tour. We as his team-mates certainly did; he was sharp, alert and on the look-out for attacks and did not worry."
Menchov showed his all-around dominace by also winning the mountains and combination competitions. He was also leading the points ranking until the end of today's stage, when Lampre's Daniele Bennati took the stage win and the win in the points classification.
Daniele Bennati had a silent message for Italian selector Franco Ballerini in the final stage of the Vuelta a España as he blasted to his third stage win. The Lampre rider, who had been shunned for the Italian Worlds team, out-sprinted Alessandro Petacchi to win the final stage, showing that his form has only improved over the Vuelta. Ag2r's Alexandre Usov took third place.
Bennati not only won the stage, but snatched the points jersey away from Menchov with his final stage win. "I am happy with the three wins. This [points] jersey is very important because it means that I have always finished very well in all the stages. After the win in Paris, to win here in Madrid is a dream," he said after the stage . Bennati now has the honour of having won the final stage in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta in one year.
Although he won three stages, showing his outstanding form, Benatti was not nominated to the Italian World's team. "We all know I can not take part of the World's because I wasn't selected," he said. "This is a message I send to [Italy's national team director Franco] Ballerini because he could have said at the beginning of the Vuelta that I didn't have a chance to ride the World's."
Fellow sprinter Petacchi is also not on the roster for Stuttgart. The Milram rider, who won the 11th and 12th Vuelta stages, very nearly won the finale today, but didn't quite make it. "My team-mates worked perfectly for me, like always," he said on the Milram website. "I was on [Bennati's] wheel and tried to get past him. He reacted very quickly. In the end it was only a question of a few centimeters. My compliments to him."
Caisse d'Epargne came into the Vuelta with the intention of contesting the overall classification with Oscar Pereiro, but even though Pereiro had to exit the race after falling ill, the team was still able to enjoy four days in the golden jersey thanks to Vladimir Efimkin. "We took the start with the intention of finishing on the podium, which was not possible mainly because of the health problems which obligated our leader, Oscar Pereiro, to give up," said team director Eusebio Unzúe, "But we however had other great satisfactions.
"We won in a great way, thanks to Vladimir Efimkin, the stage of Lagos de Covadonga. This victory made it possible for the Russian to become the overall leader and we have discovered a rider able to defend himself in three weeks long stage races," Unzúe declared, continuing, "I believe that very soon, we will see him as a protagonist in this kind of races.
Unzúe applauded his team for being active in the important breakaways, citing their attention to the race situation as the reason behind their win in the teams classification.
Madrid is the city that has hosted most stage finished in the history of the Vuelta. The tour arrived in the capital 63 times before. And it is the 38th time that the final stage will end here. Germany's Erik Zabel won in 2006.
There were 145 riders from the originally 189 who resisted up to this last Vuelta Sunday. Today's stage started in a celebratory mood, like most of the final days in the Grand Tours. The three leading men were able to raise the glasses in the first kilometres: Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre and Samuel Sánchez enjoyed cups with cava.
The rhythm was very slow and enabled Enrico Franzoi (Lampre-Fondital) to make a drawing on the blackboard of the ardoissier that usually shows the time gaps. Yannick Talabardon (Crédit Agricole) thanked everyone with a paper that said "gracias por todo". The riders were heading without any hurry to Madrid.
The stage really started when the city limits of Madrid were reached with 23 kilometres to go in this very short stage. But the organization decided that even that was too long and shortened the final circuit race by one lap, to make the distance only 98 kilometres. Rabobank controlled the peloton as the outskirts of Madrid were reached, but once the city limit sign was passed the race got a lot faster. And soon the attacks began but no breakaway was able to get a good gap. Jesús Rosendo (Andalucia-Cajasur) and Raul Garcia de Mateo (Relax Gam) made their move with around 20 kilometres to go.
Liquigas also did try with Alessandro Vanotti and Patrick Calcagni. But the Lampre and Milram teams had other plans. The two Italian outfits took control of the peloton with five kilometres to the finish line, working for Daniele Bennati and Alessandro Petacchi as the two big guns. The Euskaltel-Euskadi riders also tried to help sprinter Koldo Fernández.
The bunch sprint was perfectly setup, in the very wide Castellana Avenue . Petacchi and Bennati went head-to-head, making for a great duel in the finals metres. Both found good places in the centre and started sprinting at the perfect moment. The Lampre rider showed he is sprinting a bit better than his great rival and prevailed over Ale Jet by inches to take his third win of this year's race.