The Italian men’s team travels to Richmond today, with confidence within the Squadra on a high after success by expected team leader Diego Ulissi on Saturday at the Memorial Marco Pantani and by road captain Daniele Bennati at the GP Industria, Commercio e Artigianato di Prato on Sunday.
Vincenzo Nibali played a key role in both victories as he polished his form after winning the Coppa Bernocchi and securing his place in the Italian team. Nibali was part of the three-rider break that worked to ensure Ulissi’s victory and then he again sacrificed his own chances to help Bennati win in Prato.
The Italian team does not have a race favourite of the calibre of Alexander Kristoff or Philippe Gilbert but Bennati is convinced the Azzurri can fight for a medal, either with Ulissi via a late attack or in an eventual sprint finish with Elia Viviani and Giacomo Nizzolo.
“I’d rather wait a few days until I’ve seen the route before predicting how the road race will shake out. However I know that the Italian team is strong, united and ready,” Bennati told Gazzetta dello Sport after his win.
“We’ve got some important riders in the squad: Elia Viviani, Diego Ulissi, Matteo Trentin plus Vincenzo Nibali, who could been enjoying his end of season holidays but instead joined our plans for the worlds with real enthusiasm. Our rivals should fear him and fear us. I’ll be at the team’s service for the whole race.”
Bennati was Italy’s protected sprinter for the World Championships in Copenhagen in 2011 but failed to find a way through the chaotic finish to take on eventual winner Mark Cavendish. Since then he has become a key domestique and road captain for Alberto Contador and more recently Peter Sagan at Tinkoff-Saxo Bank. He rode the Vuelta to help Sagan and finished the final Grand Tour of the season and the 20th Grand Tour of his 16-year career. Prato was his first victory since taking a stage at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana.
“The Vuelta was tough this year and recovering has not been easy. That’s why Prato was an important test for me. I think it went pretty well….” Bennati explained.
“I was very fortunate to have a rider like Nibali working for me. I feel honoured. He worked a lot for me and then even lead out the sprint for me.”
“Davide knows he can trust me. We’ve spoken a lot about how to build-up to the world championships. We’re ready for Sunday.”
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