A drawn-out last drive netted 31-year-old Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) with his first victory of the 2012 season and sixth Vuelta stage of his career on Thursday - a win he dedicated to the late Wouter Weylandt and to a Spanish soigneur on the team who has recently been taken ill.
In 2011, Bennati was teammates with Weylandt, and the Belgian was the last winner of a Vuelta stage to Valladolid back in 2008. Weylandt died as a result of injuries sustained in a crash at the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
“This win goes to him and to a masseur on our team who is ill,” Bennati said afterwards.
“I think Wouter helped me at the stage finish, he gave me strength.”
Bennati certainly had to pull out all the stops to take his first Grand Tour victory since he won a stage of the Vuelta last year into Vitoria. He has had a series of illnesses during the season that have hampered his form, and the sprint against Ben Swift was so fast and furious that it split the peloton in the closing metres of the stage - all the favourites finishing in a group 10 seconds back - and his victory margin was so small Spanish television commentators initially judged it too close to call.
“It was a very long, difficult sprint,” Bennati - who has led the race in 2007, 2008 and 2011 - said, “and comes at the end of a long, difficult Vuelta.”
“I’m very tired but I’m not the only one. Degenkolb" - fifth in the sprint -"has dominated the last four sprints, but I’m a rider with a lot of endurance, which is why I could win so late on in the Vuelta last year."
"They call me the Panther, and panthers always have the energy for one last swipe of their claws.”