By Andrew Hood
Add Mark Cavendish to the growing list of people who think Daniele Bennati is one of the big favorites for Milan-San Remo.
The British sprinter easily handed Bennati defeat in Tuesday’s final stage at Tirreno-Adriatico, but when pressed to give one name who would win Saturday, Cavendish thought long and hard before saying, “Bennati.”
“Three hundred kilometers at 23 is a long way,” said Cavendish, discounting his own chances for his San Remo debut. “I will be ready to win San Remo in a few years. Bennati looks strong. He can get over the climbs and he has the sprint.”
Cavendish is just latest who believe that the 28-year-old Italian has the age and experience when he can seriously contend for Milan-San Remo.
“To win San Remo you need three things,” Bennati said. “You need the legs, you need to use your head and you need some luck. Let’s see if those things line up for me Saturday.”
Bennati’s previous San Remo record hardly foreshadows success, with a half-hearted 26th in 2007 in three starts. In his 2003 San Remo debut, he rode in support of Mario Cipollini. He missed racing in 2004, 2006 and last year due to a mix of sickness, crashes and injuries.
He’s hoping that his two-year cycle of racing and missing the most important Italian race culminates Saturday with a victory.
A self-assured Bennati comes out of the Tirreno-Adriatico confident that he will be a player come crunch time on the Cipressa and Poggio.
“I am very strong after this Tirreno. I wanted to win once this week. I made a long sprint, maybe I went a little early. Then I saw Cavendish coming around me and I just knew I wasn’t going to win,” he said. “Even without victory, it’s been a good week. I feel stronger than ever. I am ready for San Remo.”
Bennati is renowned for his ability to get up short to medium climbs and then have the legs to put down a winning sprint in a long race. He’s won nine grand tours stages, including the final stages at both the Vuelta and Tour, further evidence of his durability.
Bennati is confident he will be able to get over the Cipressa and Poggio with the favorites to fight for the win.
He’ll have the support of a very strong Liquigas team that will include Ivan Basso, who confirmed Tuesday he will start Milan-San Remo.
“Thanks to Daniele’s resistance on the small climbs, we’ll try to bring him to the line with a small as group as possible. We will use Fischer and Sabatini to try to deliver him to the sprint,” said sport director Roberto Amadio. “On the Manie climb, when the race can come apart, we will have Basso, Nibali and Pellizotti to thin the group.”
Liquigas is confident that Bennati has the staying power to make it over the climbs and then win a reduced-sized bunch sprint.
The team is planning its strategy around sending such riders Basso, Nibali and Pellizotti up the new Manie climb with 94km to go to whittle away some of the sprinters.
“The Manie is key because last year we saw some of the sprinter teams lose riders,” Bennati said. “We hope to disrupt the race and have a smaller group coming into Milan. That’s what happened last year and we expect it to be even harder this year.”
Bennati better try to get his win this year. If Cavendish is right, in a few years’ time, he just might be zooming past Bennati’s shoulder down the Via Roma just like he did Tuesday at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Ivan Basso, fresh off an encouraging fifth place at Tirreno-Adriatico, will explore some of the key stages for the upcoming Giro d’Italia.
Basso and Liquigas teammate Franco Pellizotti are scheduled to travel Wednesday and Thursday to scout some mountain stages for the Giro. First, they will ride the final 80km of the stage to Monte Petrano. On Thursday, the pair will ride the decisive climb up Monte Vesuvio, the penultimate stage of the centenary Giro.
Liquigas for Milan-San Remo:
Daniele Bennati, Alessandro Vanotti, Ivan Basso, Vicenzo Nibali, Franco Pellizotti, Murilo Fischer, Fabio Sabatini (all Ita), Aleksandr Kuchynski (Blr)