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By Andrew Hood
Daniele Bennati is the next big thing in Italian cycling. Many are hyping him as the natural heir to Mario Cipollini. In just his second year as a pro, Bennati is already an integral part of Cipo’s train, filling the penultimate position, right behind Giovanni Lombardi.
He’s already scored a win this year, grabbing a stage at the Tour Mediterranean in February. VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood sat down with Bennati at the team presentation in Egypt to talk about the Lion King, media and the spring classics.
VeloNews: What have you learned most from riding with Cipollini?
Daniele Bennati Cipollini has taught me that it’s very important to be professional, to take nothing for granted and don’t expect anything to be handed to you. Because when you watch Cipollini, he has an objective and works hard to achieve it. It’s not something that happens casually or by chance. Yes, sometimes you get lucky, but not so many times.
VN: How did it feel to be part of Cipollini’s world’s team?
DB: To be part of the team was so important for me, because it showed they have confidence in me. Yes, I was a reserve at the world championships, but just to be there and get that experience, to be around a winning team, was so important. It’s something that rubs off on you. It made me more aware of my own capabilities and how much harder I have to work to achieve success.
VN: Are you thinking about the 2003 world’s?
DB: No, not at all. It’s not a course that suits a sprinter, so the team will be built around riders like Paolo Bettini and others such as him. I will have more chances to return to the world’s.
VN: What are you top career goals?
DB: I want to be strong in the spring classics. I like those dramatic, important races. I like the way the races unfold and the big men fight it out. I would like to win one of the big races – Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix or Flanders.
VN: So you like the cold Belgian days?
DB: Pave, yes, cold, no.
VN: What are your top goals for this year?
DB: I’ll be racing the spring classics and the Giro. It’s unlikely I will go to the Tour, even if the team is selected. Racing at GP San Francisco? I really don’t know. Perhaps it would be nice. I’ve never been to America. The beginning of the year is the main focus for me right now.
VN: Many say you can be Cipollini’s heir. What do you think about that?
DB: That’s a big responsibility. I’m still young and I’ve only won a few races. I still have so much learn. Besides, there will only be one Cipollini. I just want to work hard and try to see where I fit in today’s cycling world.
VN: Do you feel any pressure from the Italian media?
DB: It’s not a problem for me. I like the attention. I would worry if no one took notice of me. That would worry me more.
VN: How did your first season go last year?
DB: Well, I broke my wrist early in the season, so it took me awhile to get back into top form. I didn’t get to ride the spring classics, which are my big career goal. I crashed at De Panne and I missed some time.
VN: How did you become interested in cycling?
DB: My father was always a big fan of racing. He always watched all the big races, whether on TV or along the road. I started racing in 1990 when I was just a little boy. My father took me to the races and I started to have some luck. I come from Tuscany and there are so many pros from that region of Italy. You see them training, on their bikes, at the cafes in their uniforms. You see them when you are a young boy and you want to be like them.
VN: Who do you admire most among the pros?
DB: I really like Jan Ullrich for the stage races. Johan Museeuw is just amazing and, of course, Mario Cipollini.