Talented Italian fastman Daniele Bennati (Lampre) took a fast and furious dash for the line in stage 17 of the Vuelta that – as is normal in the race’s third week’s bunch sprints ever since the Vuelta moved to September – raised more questions about the upcoming World Championships than it did about who is fastest in Spain full stop.

Bennati is not racing the World Championships this September and you could almost see the steam coming out of his ears when Spanish television asked him about whether he thought he should have had a spot in Stuttgart.

?Of course I should be there, I?m the fastest Italian here in Spain and I?ve proved it today again.? Bennati, who beat reigning World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) at Talavera de la Reina by over a bike length, said.

?It?s very difficult to win in September after being on top form in July as well.? – as Bennati, with two stages wins in the Tour, most certainly was.

?But I?ve done it, and I?ve not only won in the first stage of the Vuelta this year [at Vigo], I?ve also won in the third week and that proves I?m still in good shape.?

Consolation of a sort should come to Bennati when he takes over as points leader in the Tour of Spain on Thursday. Bettini, currently leading the classification, is widely expected to quit this evening – ironically enough, to head home to prepare for the World Championships.

Just to make it clear which was more important to Bettini, the Italian asked the organisation special permission to wear the World Champions jersey, not the points leader’s jersey on stage 17. It will be his last opportunity prior to Stuttgart. With the permission granted, Bettini paid the Vuelta back by trying to go out with a sprint win – only Bennati was faster.

Italian verbal fireworks apart, after two transition stages, the race is now looking ahead to Thursday?s mountainous stage 15.

With its two major climbs, the Mijares and the Navalmoral, a long way from the finish in Avila, the chance are CSC’s Carlos Sastre – who grew up in this part of Spain – and the other contenders will try to wear down race leader Denis Menchov and his Rabobank team in preparation for the Vuelta?s final key mountain stage on Friday.

The two laps through Avila over short cobbled climbs could – possibly – also provide some opportunities for last minute attacks and risk splitting the peloton.

Peloton on stage 16. Photos by Graham Watson

Tour of Spain stage 17 Ciudad Real – Talavera de la Reina 175km
1 Daniele Bennati (Italy) Lampre 3-56-58
2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
3 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram
4 Andre Greipel (Ger) T-Mobile
5 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas
6 Allan Davis (Aus) Discovery
7 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Credit Agricole
8 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
9 Aliaksandr Usau (Bylorussia) Ag2R
10 Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi all st

Overall standings after 17 stages
1 Denis Menchov (Russia) Rabobank 70-37-47
2 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) Caisse d’Epargne at 2-01
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor – Lotto at 2-27
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC at 3-02
5 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi at 4-01
6 Ezequiel Mosquera Miguez (Spa) Karpin Galicia at 4-35
7 Manuel Beltrán (Spa) Liquigas at 5-15
8 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d’Epargne at 6-17
9 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quickstep – Innergetic at 6-22
10 Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi at 7-41
128 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas at 1-47-42

TOUR OF SPAIN 2007: STAGE REPORTS
Stage 16: Duque takes transition stage
Stage 15: Menchov stays on top
Stage 14: Almost goodbye, but Discovery still winning
Stage 13: Klier ends four-year gap with win
Stage 12: Petacchi racks up the wins
Stage 11: Petacchi puts troubles behind him for stage win
Rest day review
Stage 10: Menchov proves he’s the boss
Stage nine: Menchov takes control
Stage eight (TT): Devolder soars to race lead
Stage seven: Zabel surprise winner
Stage six: Freire outguns Petacchi for stage hat-trick
Stage five: Freire takes second bunch sprint victory
Stage four: Efimkin upstages favourites in Vuelta
Stage three: Bettini bounces back with Vuelta stage win
Stage two: Freire nets stage win and Vuelta lead
Stage one: Bennati takes race lead in bunch sprint
Tour of Spain preview, including stage and team list

RELATED LINKS
Astana out of 2007 Tour of Spain
Eurosport cycling TV schedule for September
Vuelta confirms support for ASO in ProTour row
Vinokourov wins 2006 Tour of Spain overall

Official site: www.lavuelta.com.

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