Daniele Bennati saved his season and Radio Shack’s Vuelta with a perfectly timed sprint into Valladolid on Thursday afternoon.
The perma-tanned fast man with the religious bent was just too quick for Sky’s Ben Swift who looked under-geared in the charge for the line.
Sky got Swift’s lead out just right but ‘Benna’ was the smartest, freewheeling a few times in the finale to keep the heart rate down and then timing his bike through perfectly to pip Swift on the line.
The run in was everything you expect from a Vuelta stage with long, long straights across plains of sun burnt stubble, sleepy towns with few spectators under perfect blue skies.
Meanwhile a suicide break squabbled its way to oblivion – with the obligatory Andalucía man in there – as a rampant peloton ran them down inside 20 K to go.
It was an easy day for Saxo-Tinkoff as the sprinter’s teams skirmished like hyenas over the picking on the carcass left by the big cats.
The leader of the feral dogs up until now has been Degenkolb.
But we had a notion that ‘Panther’ Bennati may be feeling frisky as Radio Shack got involved in the mix.
He’s nicknamed thus because his sprints are smooth and elegant unlike Degenkolb or Boonen who appear to be trying to tear their bikes apart as they sprint.
Bennati’s system is more used to the latter stages of a Grand Tour and the ravages of mountain ranges – with the experience of a decade of Vueltas behind him – than young pups Degenkolb and Viviani.
It was stage 20 he won last year and his tail will be up for tomorrow – although a breakaway is well possible with so many teams desperate for a result – and the final stage into Madrid.
The Sky leadout in Valladolid was good, with Stannard saved for the last K instead of being burned up too far out.
And it was bizarre to see the blue spotted king of the mountains jersey up there in melee – Simon Clarke on lead-out duties for Alan Davis.
Davis took third, with Mitchell Docker also making the top 10 for GreenEDGE-Orica.
And here’s what ‘Benna’ had to say:
“I am really tired but very happy. This was hard work but it’s a special day. Four years ago Wouter Weylandt won on this finish line and for sure today he was with me. He was a good friend and good teammate and today I feel he gave me extra forces to win.
“I also thought of my grandfather today who passed on during training camp last winter. I dedicate this win to both of them.
“I’m happy for my teammates too. They worked all day and we were focused on this stage. The stages have been hot and challenging so far but the team was determined to work for me. I received incredible support from my teammates as well as directors José Azevedo and Luca Guercilena. I’ve tried in many previous stages but things didn’t go completely right until today.
“Each day since the Vuelta started I’ve felt stronger and stronger, and finally today I was strong enough. It’s always this way for me in a grand tour – I am at my best in the final week.”
And there’s not much else to add to a long, hot sprint stage in the Vuelta.
But we did have a chat with a few riders on the rest day – Tomasz Marczynski was one.
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Tomasz Marczynski Interview in Valladolid
Nicolas Roche may have clawed his way back into the top ten, but there’s a danger man breathing down his neck in 11th spot.
Former Polish road and time trial champion, 28 year old Tomasz Marczynski from Krakau has been riding a very consistent race; his nine top twenty stage finishes have brought him to the edge of the magic top ten in only his second Grand Tour.
Marczynski took out his first pro licence in 2006 with Italian squadra Ceramica Flaminia, the same year he landed second place in the Polish Elite Road Race Championship – an event he has excelled in over the years.
The following year he topped the podium in the Polish championship and rode a diverse programme with Ceramica – from Portugal, by way of most of Europe, to Mexico and seventh in the Olympic test event in Beijing.
In 2008, still with Ceramica, he won a stage in the Tour of Asturias and took second overall in the Classica Alcobendas.
The following season he was in Miche-Silver Cross colors, riding a largely Italian programme.
That run of foreign teams was interrupted in 2010 when he headed back to Poland and CCC Polsat for two seasons, enjoying an exotic programme – a stage win and the overall in the Tour of Seoul, fifth in the Tour of Hainan; but then returning to Poland for third on GC and a stage in the Szlakeim Grodow Piastowskich.
Last season he pulled on the national champion’s jersey in both the elite time trial and road race and still at home took two stages and the GC in the Tour of Malopolska.
This season, in the service of Vacansoeil-DCM, has been a mixed one – he won the sprints competition in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and took third in the Rund um Koln but was involved in a bad crash in the Giro which left him with stitches and broken ribs.
But by the Tour de Pologne he was back winning the mountains classification and in good shape for the Vuelta.
He took time during the rest day to talk to VeloVeritas about what has been a great Tour of Spain, thus far.
King of the Mountains in Poland – that was a good omen, Tomasz.
“Yes, after the accident at the Giro I had one month with no bike then I started to train again.
“I built things up for Poland and then had three weeks training at altitude in the Sierra Nevada.
“I rode the Tour de l’Ain after that and knew I was in good condition.”
Third in Koln – that’s a sprinter’s race?
“That was right after the Pais Vasco and I was in good shape – but I actually feel I should have done better than third in that race.”
Up until now the furthest you’ve race has been 12 stages – in the Giro?
“I had the crash in the Giro on stage 10 but kept going until stage 12 with two broken ribs and stitches.
“But after that, I couldn’t go on, the pain was too much.”
You’re 16 stages into the Vuelta, how do you feel?
“The stage yesterday (Cuitu Negru) was incredibly hard and I’m glad we have a rest day, today.
“I’m hoping I can recover well for the last five stages.
“For now, I feel pretty good and have been going better as the race goes on; but before the race I wasn’t thinking top 10, maybe top 20?”
What was the Vacansoleil-DCM plan going in to the race?
“Normally Thomas De Gendt would be going for the GC, but after the first stages it was decided that he would go for stage wins and the DS decided that I should go for the overall.
“Thomas has been riding well in the breaks and just missed out, yesterday.”
You had a good ride into Barcelona – fourth.
“It was a really good result for me, yes – Gilbert and Rodriguez were clear but only Tiralongo was better than me from the peloton at the end.”
The time trial – 43rd were you happy with that?
“I didn’t feel so good that day, it wasn’t a good ride but it wasn’t a bad ride – a normal time trial for me.”
You’ve had nine top 20 stage finishes.
“For me it’s very important to be consistent – I think it’s the main quality you require for three week stage races.
“I hope to be able to continue like that.”
You were strong on Ancares and Covadonga but not Cuitu?
“That was a very steep climb and I’m almost 70 kg; there are sections which are more than 20%.
“But it wasn’t just about the steepness of the last climb – the previous climbs were fast too and the speed into Cuitu was very high.”
Do you think climbs like Cuitu are maybe too crazy?
“For sure they’re really hard – but it’s the same for everyone.
“I was on 36 x 28 – that was very hard, a 32 would have been better.”
What about the heat?
“For me it’s no problem, I’d rather race in 40 degree heat than in cold rain!”
How did the rest day go?
“I did 90 minutes easy, with a stop for coffee – no stress.”
And a top ten finish?
“I’d like to try, I’m 49 seconds behind Nicolas Roche – but what I have to be careful about is that I have some strong guys just behind me.
“Benat Intxausti (Movistar) is only 34 seconds back and Maxime Montfort (Radio Shack) is at one minute, like I said, they’re strong riders and I have to watch for them, tomorrow to Fuente De and on Saturday to Bola del Mundo.”
How is Thomas’s morale?
“He rode well yesterday, they’re two strong guys – they got a 15 minute gap, but Cataldo was just that little bit stronger at the end.
“It’s better to win, but second on a stage like that is a good result – and he‘ll be on the attack again before the end.”
Bola del Mundo?
“It’s really hard, maybe harder than Cuitu was, yesterday.
“Anything can happen – we’ll see!”