NAPLES, Italy (VN) — They didn’t factor in Saturday’s stage 1 sprint finish, but Saxo-Tinkoff’s Daniele Bennati and Matti Breschel come to the Giro d’Italia as a two-man hit squad, hoping to catch some of the peloton’s bigger sprint trains off their game.
Bennati, 32, comes to the Giro looking for a renaissance of sorts. His career has been plagued with Illnesses and injuries since his peak season of 2007, when he won multiple stages at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, including the “sprinter’s world championships” on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. He has only raced the Giro twice, first in 2003, riding for Domina Vacanze, and again in 2008, when he won three stages and took the points classification riding for Liquigas.
After spending the last two seasons with RadioShack, winning Vuelta stages in both 2011 and 2012, Bennati jumped across to Saxo-Tinkoff for 2013. However, the first part of his spring campaign was a disappointment, with a 28th at Milano-Sanremo followed by DNFs at Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders.
Bennati told VeloNews that he’s unsure of his form at the start of the Giro, adding that he’s targeting several flat stages in the race’s second week.
“I don’t know my condition, because my last race was the Tour of Flanders,” Bennati said. “I rested for almost 10 days, and then came back on the bike and trained a little. Normally I don’t do the Giro, but we have changed my program this year … the beginning of the season was not so easy for me. I don’t know my shape at the moment, but for sure I’ll come back within a few days.”
Saxo-Tinkoff does not have a squad in Italy that can compete against the more-developed lead-out trains of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Orica-GreenEdge or Cannondale. Instead, Bennati will look to Breschel to provide him with a clear path to the finish line.
“[Breschel] is a good rider, and a good guy. He’s important for me,” Bennati said. “There are a lot of sprinters here. It will be very competitive, but I am confident for the fifth stage, and then a few stages in the second week.”
After a stellar 2010 season that included a win at Dwars door Vlaanderen and second to Thor Hushovd at the 2010 world road championship in Geelong, Australia, Breschel lost much of the 2011 and 2012 seasons to a knee injury, which required surgery and extensive rehabilitation.
Like Bennati, Breschel is also new to the Saxo team, after two years lost at Rabobank. And like Bennati, Breschel also struggled through this year’s spring classics. The Dane is still seeking top form, though his 25th at the Tour of Flanders showed that he’s not so far off.
“I’m looking forward to getting my ass kicked for three weeks,” Breschel said.
Breschel, who lives in Lucca, Italy, has only raced the Giro once, in 2007, riding for CSC in support of a young Andy Schleck, who finished second overall in his first grand tour.
With Bennati expecting to drop out after two weeks, to prepare for the Tour de Suisse and then the Tour de France, Breschel said he also hoped he would also have opportunities to vie for a stage win of his own.
“Hopefully, if I can get my ass over the climbs, and we can sprint against 60 guys, that’s my chance,” Breschel said. “I’ve also been struggling a little bit this spring, I’ve been a little sick, but I raced in Frankfurt [the May 1 Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt], and got my ass kicked. But I’ve been training good. I did my homework.”