Leopard-Trek’s Daniele Bennati sprinted to victory on Saturday in stage 20 of the 2011 Vuelta a España.
Leopard-Trek and Astana took control of the race in the final kilometers, sweeping up the remnants of a huge breakaway until finally corraling the last man standing, Carlos Sastre (Geox-TMC), who was snatched back with 2km to go.
In the dash to the line Bennati showed a clean pair of heels to Astana’s Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) and Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale), who took second and third, respectively.
“This is an extremely important victory for me and for my team,” said Bennati. “To have guys like Maxime [Monfort], who is sixth on the general classification, and Jakob [Fuglsang] lead me out in a sprint is a really fantastic feeling.”
Sky’s Christopher Froome never challenged race leader Juan Jose Cobo (Geox) during the stage, and the GC remained unchanged going into Sunday’s 95km finale into Madrid. But Cobo wasn’t counting his chickens just yet.
“Mathematically, I’m not the winner of the Vuelta yet,” said Cobo. “There are two remaining intermediate sprints and the finish in Madrid. That makes a total of 32 seconds up for grab but fortunately, Froome isn’t a sprinter.
“I’d love tomorrow’s final stage to be a party but Froome has the right to race for winning.”
The 185km stage from Bilbao to Vitoria in the Basque Country of northern Spain took riders east for about 75km, briefly dropped south, veered west for 55km, turned south until about 10km from the finish and finally headed north to the line.
The profile served up a busy, quite hilly 98km section starting at about the 41.5km mark. The first ranked climb was the Category 2 Alto de Karabieta, a 6.3km ascent that began at 41.5km and summited at 47.8km. Up next was the Cat. 1 Alto de Elosua, a 7.3km climb that began at 57km and topped out at 64.3km, averaging 7.6 percent.
Over a long and moderate unrated climb, the peloton then passed through the feed zone at 100km and headed to the Cat. 3 Alto de Kanpazar, a 5.6km ascent that began at 106.6km and summited at 112km.
The last hurdle of the day — and the final categorized climb of the 2011 Vuelta — was the Cat.1 Puerto de Urkiola, a 5.5km climb that began at 133.1km and peaked at 138.6km. It was a potentially decisive 9.1-percent climb, but attackers facex a largely flat 46.4km run to the finish in Vitoria.
The break of the day
About 35km a huge break had formed, containing Nicolas Roche and Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r La Mondiale); Amets Txurruka and Inaki Isasi Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Jan Bakelants and Jurgen Van De Walle (Omega Pharma-Lotto); Steven Kruijswijk and Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Rabobank); Vladimir Karpets, Eduard Vorganov and Juan Horrach Rippoll (Katusha); Marco Marzano and Aitor Perez Arrieta (Lampre-ISD); Jaroslaw Marycz and Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Sungard); Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano); Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale); Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing); Manuele Mori (Lampre-ISD); Bennati; Jose Vicente Toribio Alcolea (Andalucia Caja Granada); Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil-DCM); Robert Kiserlovski (Astana); Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervélo); Pablo Lastras Garcia (Movistar); and Leigh Howard (HTC-Highroad).
It was a hot day, in the 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit) and the break did not get much of a leash — its lead maxed out at around 4:15 77km into the day’s labors. At the 105km mark it was down to just over two minutes. With 56km to race the gap was just a minute.
Knowing the catch was nigh, Barredo had a go on the Urkiola, and with 47km to go he had taken about a minute’s advantage. Geox controlled the bunch on the final climb of the Vuelta — which was all of only four riders wide, thanks to the fans lining both sides of the road — and if Froome had any notions about attacking Cobo there, he didn’t have enough road to work with.
Barredo soldiered on with 35km to race as Leopard-Trek put Stuey O’Grady on the front and began sweeping up the remnants of the break, hoping to put Bennati at the front of a sprint finish. It wasn’t looking good for the Rabobank man, who was battling headwinds as the bunch rocketed along behind him.
“The team helped me get over the climb,” said Bennati. “I knew most of the other sprinters had been dropped. Once I made it over the top, I had a good feeling about the stage win.”
Froome fooled, Sastre scoots
Froome had a dig with 20km to go — it seemed a mistaken bid to take seconds in the intermediate sprint, which had been moved during the stage. No matter. Cobo was on him instantly.
“I sprinted at the 20km-to-go mark instead of the intermediate sprint. It was a mix-up but we tried again,” he said. “We’ve kept pressure on Cobo with the commitment of the whole but once again, he didn’t crack.”
Then Sastre took off. He hooked up with Barredo and it was a two-man break with 40 seconds’ advantage and 13km remaining.
The partnership didn’t last long — Sastre left Barredo behind as Astana lent a hand to the Leopard-Trek chase with 7km remaining. The Geox man had a 14-second gap with 6km to race, but it would not be enough as the bunch barreled along at 48kph. Inside 4km the bunch had him in their sights and it was only a matter of time.
Two kilometers later Sastre was back in the bunch and the peloton lined itself out in preparation for a 65kph sprint to the line.
Entering the final kilometer Leopard-Trek led it out, and Bennati easily took the win ahead of Gasparotto and Caruso.
“It was a classic sprint finish at the end,” noted Bennati. “My teammates put in the maximum effort to secure this result. We’re extremely happy with this win.”
- 1. Daniele Bennati, Leopard-Trek , 4:39:20
- 2. Enrico Gasparotto, Astana, s.t.
- 3. Damiano Caruso, Liquigas-Cannondale, s.t.
- 4. Sep Vanmarcke, Garmin-Cervélo, s.t.
- 5. Koen De Kort, Skil-Shimano, s.t.
- 1. Juan José Cobo, Geox-TMC , 82:38:32
- 2. Christopher Froome, Team Sky, at 0:13
- 3. Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky, at 1:39
- 4. Bauke Mollema, Rabobank Cycling Team, at 2:03
- 5. Denis Menchov, Geox-TMC, at 3:48