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While doing the lead-out for Gatto, Bennati came out on top in a very technical bunch sprint on the first stage of the Vuelta a Andalusia, beating Van Lerberghe and Lobato; the Italian is the first leader of the race

Photo: Sirotti






17.02.2016 @ 16:39 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) became a surprise winner of the first stage of the Vuelta a Andalucia as he turned out to be the strongest in a very technical finale in Seville. Trying to set his teammate Oscar Gatto up for the sprint, the Italian handled the many turns and roundabouts better than anybody else and managed to easily hold off Bert Van Lerberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Juan Jose Lobato (Tinkoff) to take the win and the first leader’s jersey in the race.


Daniele Bennati was once tipped to become of the greatest sprinters and in the early part of his career he delivered on his promises. With stage wins in all three grand tours, including a big win on the Champs-Elysees, the future looked bright for the Italian fastman.


However, a number of years with health issues ended his time as a top sprinter and instead he settled into a role as key domestique for Alberto Contador in the grand tours. In fact, his win at last year’s GP di Pato was his first since 2012 and the Italian is very rarely taking his own chances.


Today he was again set to play a support role as Tinkoff decided to go for new signing Oscar Gatto in the bunch sprint on the opening day of the Vuelta a Andalucia. Bennati had to use his experience to guide his compatriot through the tricky and technical finale in Seville but things didn’t turn out as planned.


The two Italians lost each other in the final roundabout just 100m from the line and when Bennati launched his sprint immediately after the exit, no one had time to pass him and he had plenty of time to celebrate a surprise victory.


The mostly flat stage was always expected to be one for the sprinters but suddenly it looked like a surprise could be in store. A four-rider breakaway of Jerome Baugnies (Wanty), Marcin Mrozek (CCC), Imanol Estevez (Euskadi) and Evgeny Shalunov (Gazprom-Rusvelo) semmed to be under control when Southeast were chasing with 16km to go and the gap was down to just 1.05. However, as no team wanted to assist the riders from the Italian formation, the gap had suddenly gone out to 1.30 with 11km to go.


There was no longer any organized chase going on and instead it was all the big GC teams riding on the front to keep their leaders safe. Southeast again tried to up the pace with 10km to go though and as they got to the 9km to go, they had reduced the gap to 55 seconds.


Sky hit the front with Nicolas Roche and Vasil Kiryienka before the Cofidis team of pre-race favourite Nacer Bouhanni finally came to the fore. Luis Angel Maté took some big turns, trading pulls with a Southeast rider, and they had reduced the gap to 30 seconds with 5km to go.


The pair worked well together in the peloton to shave another 10 seconds off the gap with 4km to go and it was just 16 seconds with 3.5km to go. Maté swung off and a Southeast rider led the peloton across the river on the outskirts of Seville.


With 2.1km to go, the break had to surrender after Baugnies had tried to make one final desperate attack but he had no chance as Tinkoff had now taken control. Nikolay Trusov, Jay McCarthy, Bennati and Gatto were lined out on the front but just before the flamme rouge they were passed by Alejandro Valverde who guided Juan Jose Lobato into position.


However, it was Topsport Vlaanderen that came out on top as they managed to position Gijs Van Hoecke and Bert Van Lerberghe in the first two positions just before the final roundabout just 100m from the line. Bennati and Gatto were third and fourth but Lobato managed to push himself in between the two Tinkoff riders in the roubdabout.


As they exited, Bennati immediately accelerated past the two Topsport Vlaanderen riders and he kept going all the way to the end. With his teammate no longer on his wheel, Gatto never came around him and he held off Van Lerberghe and Lobato to claim victory, with Gatto making it two Tinkoff riders in the top 5. Bouhanni had to settle for sixth after having been out of position.


There are no bonus seconds in the race so Bennati is the first leader of the race but he is equal on time with most of the peloton. He faces a much harder challenge tomorrow on stage 2 which is an almost completely flat affair. In the end, however, the riders will tackle a 5.6km climb that summits just 22.9km from the finish and from there a descent leads to a flat finish.


A flat stage

The 62nd Vuelta a Andalucia kicked off with a 165.2km stage that brought the riders from Almonaster la Real to Seville. There were three category 3 climbs in a hilly first part but the second half of the stage was mostly downhill until the riders reached the flat final kilometres. In the end, there were several turns and roundabouts inside the final kilometre, making it a very technical finale.


It was a day of beautiful sunshine when the 164 riders gathered for the start. They were in no mood to take it easy as the hilly start lent itself to attacks and no one managed to escape in the first 10km. That allowed Lukasz Owsian (CCC) to win the first KOM sprint at the 14km mark ahead of Damiano Caruso (BMC) and Alexander Foliforov (Gazprom-Rusvelo).


Four riders get clear

The attacking continued until Mrozek, Estevez, Baugnies and Shalunov got clear and they had pushed their advantage out to 48 seconds after 21km of racing. Moments later Estevex beat Mrozek and Baugnies in the second KOM sprint.


The peloton was in no hurry so the gap had reached a massive 8 minutes at the 37km mark. Meanwhile, the escapees were working well together to cover 40.3km during the first hour.


Estevex takes the mountains jersey

The gap was still 7.45 at the 42km mark but it was down to 7.00 at the bottom of the final climb. Here. Estevez again beat Mrozek and Baugnies to become the first KOM leader of the race.


With 100km to go, the gap was still 7.15 as the chase was not really organized yet. Twenty kilometres later Baugnies won the intermediate sprint ahead of Shalunov and Estevez.


Three teams start to chase

At this point the gap was still 6.45 and this was the signal for the chase to slowly start. With 75km to go, the gap was 6.45 and it was down to 4.22 after 103km of racing.


In the peloton, Caja Rural, Cofidis and Roompot had combined forces to lead the chase and with 49km to go, they had reduced the gap to 3.38. It was now coming down quickly and was only 3 minutes with 35km to go.


The peloton gets nervous

Things didn’t get any easier when the riders hit a crosswind section where all the big teams gathered on the front of a nervous peloton. LottoNL-Jumbo, Sky and Trek lined out their trains and it was Trek that took control with Markel Irizar and Riccardo Zoidl 30km from the finish. At this point, the gap was only 2.10.


Things calmed down a bit and the gap stabilized before Caja Ruraul again started to chase. Meanwhile, Hayato Yoshida (Matrix) hit the deck with 21km to go.


Caja Rural reduced the gap to 1.35 with 20km when the peloton again got nervous and all the big teams lined up their trains. As things again calmed down, Southeast started to chase and things seemed to be under control when the gap was just 1.05 with 16km to go. However, as the Italian team got no help, the gap again started to grow and this set the scene for the exciting finale.



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