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Bennati takes first

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Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital wins the first sprint

Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital wins the first sprint (Image credit: AFP)
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The sprint with winner Bennati

The sprint with winner Bennati (Image credit: AFP)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) is the team's leader

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) is the team's leader (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) got bloody

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) got bloody (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel) is looking forward to do one last great race before heading on to T-Mobile.

Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel) is looking forward to do one last great race before heading on to T-Mobile. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Five time-Tour winner Miguel Indurain was at the start of the Vuelta.

Five time-Tour winner Miguel Indurain was at the start of the Vuelta. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Miguel Indurain is still very popular in Spain and gets presentations.

Miguel Indurain is still very popular in Spain and gets presentations. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos Sastre (Team CSC) is making the Vuelta the highlight of his season now.

Carlos Sastre (Team CSC) is making the Vuelta the highlight of his season now. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) looks forward to when the road tilts upwards.

Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) looks forward to when the road tilts upwards. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Cordero is the race director and is fighting against declining popularity.

Cordero is the race director and is fighting against declining popularity. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) wants to go one step higher than in the Tour, where he got second.

Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) wants to go one step higher than in the Tour, where he got second. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) is the team leader and has plenty of domestiques.

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) is the team leader and has plenty of domestiques. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) used the Regio Tour to get in form for the Vuelta and hopes to also be able to get a stage win in the Vuelta.

Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) used the Regio Tour to get in form for the Vuelta and hopes to also be able to get a stage win in the Vuelta. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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José Luis Arrieta (Ag2r Prévoyance) with his number-one bike before the start.

José Luis Arrieta (Ag2r Prévoyance) with his number-one bike before the start. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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José Luis Arrieta (Ag2r Prévoyance) wears number one as last year's winner Alexander Vinokourov is not at the start.

José Luis Arrieta (Ag2r Prévoyance) wears number one as last year's winner Alexander Vinokourov is not at the start. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The peloton is waiting for the Vuelta to get under way

The peloton is waiting for the Vuelta to get under way (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The start in Vigo was picturesque.

The start in Vigo was picturesque. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) 'warms up' in the harbour area.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) 'warms up' in the harbour area. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) has done well in the Deutschland Tour and is looking forward to the Vuelta.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) has done well in the Deutschland Tour and is looking forward to the Vuelta. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) enjoys the sun in Vigo, which isn't a certainty in one of the greenest regions in Spain.

Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) enjoys the sun in Vigo, which isn't a certainty in one of the greenest regions in Spain. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) wants to get in Worlds form as the world championships are in his hometown area in Stuttgart and he really wants to win that one.

Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) wants to get in Worlds form as the world championships are in his hometown area in Stuttgart and he really wants to win that one. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) is pensive before the start. He will try to win stages and get a decent GC placing.

Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) is pensive before the start. He will try to win stages and get a decent GC placing. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) waves to the crowd who loves the hometown boy.

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) waves to the crowd who loves the hometown boy. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step Innergetic) came in a hurry and didn't have time to shave. But it shouldn't slow him down in the sprints.

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step Innergetic) came in a hurry and didn't have time to shave. But it shouldn't slow him down in the sprints. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) is the team's leader and highly confident for a good placing.

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) is the team's leader and highly confident for a good placing. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step Innergetic) is back in action and he will use the Vuelta to get in shape to defend his rainbow jersey.

Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step Innergetic) is back in action and he will use the Vuelta to get in shape to defend his rainbow jersey. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) with dark glasses that won't reveal his tactics.

Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) with dark glasses that won't reveal his tactics. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Erik Zabel (Milram) uses the Vuelta to get in shape for the Worlds in his home country.

Erik Zabel (Milram) uses the Vuelta to get in shape for the Worlds in his home country. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) wants to win stages and he has shown good form lately.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) wants to win stages and he has shown good form lately. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) hopes for a good race as he has done well in the Vuelta in the past.

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) hopes for a good race as he has done well in the Vuelta in the past. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) wants to increase his stage win tally in Spain.

Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) wants to increase his stage win tally in Spain. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Cunego arrives with a team-mate at the finish in Vigo.

Cunego arrives with a team-mate at the finish in Vigo. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) got bloody after his crash, but was able to finish the race.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) got bloody after his crash, but was able to finish the race. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) in the finishing circuit.

Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) in the finishing circuit. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Pereiro and Bennati riding close to each other in the race.

Pereiro and Bennati riding close to each other in the race. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The sprint in full swing

The sprint in full swing (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bennati had time to celebrate as he beat the other sprinters.

Bennati had time to celebrate as he beat the other sprinters. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) could only manage second in his home country's first stage.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) could only manage second in his home country's first stage. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Another big win for the Italian sprint star.

Another big win for the Italian sprint star. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The Italian was faster than all the other sprint rockets.

The Italian was faster than all the other sprint rockets. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) wins the first stage in a sprint.

Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) wins the first stage in a sprint. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Zabel led out Petacchi and then kept sprinting for a bit more, before rolling out.

Zabel led out Petacchi and then kept sprinting for a bit more, before rolling out. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Petacchi got close but not close enough.

Petacchi got close but not close enough. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A big trophy for a big win.

A big trophy for a big win. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bennati on the podium, continuing where he left off in the Tour.

Bennati on the podium, continuing where he left off in the Tour. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bennati gets to test out the first golden jersey of the 2007 Vuelta.

Bennati gets to test out the first golden jersey of the 2007 Vuelta. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bennati tries on new colours.

Bennati tries on new colours. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The golden jersey looks good on Bennati and his smile.

The golden jersey looks good on Bennati and his smile. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bennati in the golden jersey.

Bennati in the golden jersey. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The sprint with winner Bennati on the left, and Freire (Rabobank), Petacchi (Milram) and Boonen (Quick.Step-Innergetic) reduced to onlookers.

The sprint with winner Bennati on the left, and Freire (Rabobank), Petacchi (Milram) and Boonen (Quick.Step-Innergetic) reduced to onlookers. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital wins the first sprint of the 2007 Vuelta a España

Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital wins the first sprint of the 2007 Vuelta a España (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Bennati also took over the first golden jersey.

Bennati also took over the first golden jersey. (Image credit: AFP Photo)

First maillot oro and Vuelta stage win

Daniele Bennati proved his form has not faded since his win on the Champs-Élysées in Paris at the end of July by taking the opening stage of the 62nd Vuelta a España. The 26 year-old Italian over-powered Spaniard Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and compatriot Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) as the 146.4-kilometre stage finished in Vigo. With the win on the opening day, 'Benna' moves in to the maillot oro of overall leader.

Way back at the end of February, the rider from Arezzo got the confidence boost he needed by overtaking sprint-great Petacchi in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. He approached the season with newly found determination that was only sidelined by stomach pains during the late spring. A resurgence in the Tour de France proved that he was right to believe in himself as Italy's top gun. He won two stages against the world's best sprinters, while Petacchi sat at home watching on television.

The big rematch finally came today on the streets of Vigo. Bennati not only bettered Petacchi but he also topped Oscar Freire, Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) and Tom Boonen (Quick.Step - Innergetic). It was the 2005 World Champion's team, Quick.Step, that did most of the pace-making in the final circuit around Vigo. With the help of Milram, Discovery and Bennati's Lampre, the gap of Serafín Martínez (Karpin-Galicia) and Jérémy Roy (Française Des Jeux) was closed. Roy was the last to hang on, and his day ended at five kilometres to go.

Petacchi, a 17-time stage winner in the Vuelta, sent Milram to take over for the final kilometres. He had German Erik Zabel on the front as the race for the stage and 2007's first maillot oro came to a close. However, 'Benna' was a few riders back and poised as a danger-man. He made himself visible only in the last metres, which was perfect timing for the taking the stage win and race leadership.

Freire had the help of Pedro Horrillo for the sprint finale. He seemed to be ready for the win, but was a victim of bad positioning. Petacchi must have lost heart. Once 'Ale-Jet' saw the blue-pink flash of Bennati his legs stopped turning at their normal tempo, and he faded. Davis and Boonen showed their eagerness to get a stage win with the help of their teams, and it is likely we will see them challenge in the following two sprinter friendly stages as the race heads towards the mountain appointment of Lagos de Covadonga.

The early escape of Martínez, Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom) and Geoffroy Lequatre (Cofidis) did not enjoy complete freedom, however, it was what neo-pro Martínez needed to snatch maximum mountain points over the category three Ponte Caldelas and Zamans. 23 year-old Martínez of Spain will don the white top of best climber.

How it unfolded

Vigo is a small but famous city by the sea in the province of Pontevedra in southern Galicia. The town is known all over Spain for its famous soccer club Celta and its Citroen big factory which is one the biggest car factories in the country.

This was a special stage for Oscar Pereiro who is from a little town named Mos that is very near Vigo. The route should have been very familiar to the 2006 Tour de France virtual champion.

While Spain's José Luis Arrieta (AG2R Prévoyance) wore dossard number 1 as Alexander Vinokourov and his team Astana were not invited to the tour, the 189 riders started the Grand Tour.

The first breakaway of the Vuelta was made by three riders: Serafín Martínez (Karpin-Galicia) together with Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom) and Geoffroy Lequatre (Cofidis) at kilometre 26. They led by more than three minutes at kilometre 40. Nevertheless, the gap wasn't growing and the peloton didn't let them gain much time.

The race kept going and the three leaders couldn't increase the advantage as the big group led by Milram remained in command. Therefore, the distance between Martínez, Champion and Lequatre didn't grow more than four minutes. The flat finish was an auspicious field not only for Milram's Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel but also for stars Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Innergetic) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank).

Late on, at kilometre 90, Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel) abandoned the race. The American quit due to a hard crash which happened at kilometre 78. He suffered a hard landing together with Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital). Danielson was worse off, as he broke his right collarbone, while the Italian had a hard hit in his left knee, which bled. Danielson was sent later to a hospital in Vigo. It was sad news for the rider hoping to play a big part in the Vuelta.

Local Martínez wanted to make the big surprise of the today, so he attacked his two breakaway mates at kilometre 109, with 43 kilometres to go. He led the race for some kilometres but the teams with sprinters in their rosters found it easy to catch a single rider. With around 20 kilometres to the line, Jérémy Roy (Française Des Jeux) made his move and joined the Spaniard. Roy wanted it all for himself, and he launched another attacked to take the lead solo with eight kilometres to the finish line.

Finally, the Frenchman was swallowed by the peloton as they prepared for the bunch sprint with Milram clearly leading the way. The Italian team took command of the front, but it wasn't enough to allow Ale-Jet to take Vuelta win number 18. Petacchi, Freire and Bennati fought hard and the Lampre rider got the best position going in the right side and prevailing over the other top-class sprinters. Allan Davis and Tom Boonen were fourth and fifth, respectively. 'Benna' won the last Tour de France stage and, therefore, continued his Grand Tours wining streak with the first stage of the Vuelta a España.

Stage 2 - September 2: Allariz - Santiago de Compostela, 148.7km

The Vuelta a España stays in Galicia for one more day with a testing run from Allariz to Santiago de Compostela. The only alto appears early on in the day, kilometre 67.6, but there is some taxing terrain that follows. However, the 11-kilometre circuit in Santiago de Compostela, host of nearly a half-dozen stage finishes, should allow the sprinters' teams to regroup and crunch any gaps the escapees might have formed.

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