Daniele Bennati: The Slam-DUNC Interview!
Daniele Bennati. A nice, polite, good looking lad that happens to be very swift on a bike. He invited me to have dinner with him at his house with his lovely wife, Chiara, so I traveled to Arezzo, south of Florence, for a visit a couple of weeks ago.
Daniele lives in Arezzo which is 90km south of Florence. Arezzo is well worth a visit, not only as it hosted the Giro last year and again this but because it has an incredible historic city. If you watched the Oscar winning film “Life is Beautiful” with Roberto Benigni from a couple of years ago, you will understand what I’m talking about, as it was filmed in the town’s main Piazza.
Daniele is part of the new crop of Italian pros, poised to take over from the likes of Bettini, Bartoli, Casagrande and co. Only 23 years old, Bennati has shown he can handle himself in the sprints, and likes the one-day races. He turned pro in 2002 and now rides with Phonak, after transferring from Domina Vacanze. He tips the scales at 71 kg for 183cm height. He’s a cyclist that Franco Ballerini sees as a real promise for his powerful yet agile cycling and stable professional ways.
The countryside near Bennati’s house. Can’t you just see yourself riding here?
We meet in the centre of Arezzo and drive out to his house, which is 12km away. We start chatting about an infection he picked up in Mallorca, Spain whilst training this winter.
DUNC: How are you feeling? What infection did you pick up?
DANIELE: Toxoplasma Gondii, when I was in Spain for 6 days, I ate badly, I was training hard and the food wasn’t the best. When I got home I was ok, then when I went back to Spain I was feeling tired, sluggish just never seemed to recover. I carried on but I knew something was wrong as I know my body and my capabilities. After the little stage race there, in which I even came 5th in one stage in the sprint, I started talking to the team doctors as by now, I was feeling constantly tired. When I got the results I was treated and was on complete rest. It cleared up quickly but I was still feeling bad, just not right, I tried to train but had the same problems as before. When I was tested again it was found that I had picked up a type of worm! Complete rest again. Now I feel ok, I’ve been training hard even if the weather here hasn’t been great (rain, cold then sun then rain cold!) Oh that reminds me, I got a text message from Tyler Hamilton in English, I think I understood what he wrote but can you take a look so I’m sure. Tyler’s a nice guy isn’t he Dunc?
DUNC: I like him as do all Americans. I’ve met him only once at last years TDF. Let me look at the Text message.
– For respect, I won’t tell you all the text message but Tyler wrote his best wishes for a speedy recovery and told him not to worry as Daniele will have many years in front of him to show his real talent. He signed off saying ” Take care Champion” –
At Daniele’s house we were met by his lovely wife and cocker spaniel Pepe. He and Chiara married on the 6th December after they met in a night club 6 years ago to the day.
Finding Italian Fans
DUNC: I think so. It’s complete. What about the people that follow cycling in Italy? At the MSR it was all a very high age group. What do you think about this?
DANIELE: That’s true. Here (near Arezzo) there used to be a very important Junior race, but it’s died of a death a bit. When I did my first Classics of the North, Parigi-Roubaix, Flanders etc (which are his favourites! – ed.) at the start line there are 30,000 people or so. They treat it as a national sport, the whole family is there, it’s a fantastic atmosphere. I don’t know what has to be done. What you said about the finish line not being designed for the public but for TV could be looked at and re-designed and maybe something for kids at the start so they can have contact with the pro-cyclist’s, that’s how a kid builds his hero’s.
DUNC: Do you know we still have a challenge to do. You challenged me to a hill climb of your choice and I get a 30 minute start!
DANIELE: Ah yeah, is it true that Ballerini challenged you to a game of Squash?
DUNC: Yep, but he still hasn’t told me when.
DANIELE: I’ll show you the wedding photo’s, Franco was my best man.
He gets the album out and sure enough there was Ballerini as his best man.
DANIELE: Have you seen Ballerini’s new house?
DANIELE: He’s just finished it. In the hills above Pistoia with a swimming pool and a fantastic view. Really nice.
DUNC: Now I know where to spend this year’s holiday… at Franco’s house! Anybody want to come with me? Ladies have first choice!
Could Daniele take over where the Lion King leaves off?
Dishing On Domina
DUNC: Tell me the truth about the Domina management, Santoni in particular. I get the impression that it’s not very professional. Just doesn’t seem to have anything to do with cycling. Have I hit the nail on the head?
DANIELE: (Laughing) Yeah a bit. Moving to Phonak I’ve seen the difference, they work as a team serving everybody that needs to be served. Do you know that I never saw the offices of the Domina Cycling Team! Maybe what you said about CSC’s idea that a team has to be run as a business, everybody has a job to do, I think that is a way forward, maybe the Italians have a lot to learn about management from the foreign teams. Talking about CSC, it’s a nice team isn’t it?
Daniele & Dunc Talk GIRO
DANIELE: Dunc, tell me what you think about the Giro?
DUNC: I always hope to see something new… would be nice if it was from an Italian like Scarponi, ( who I think is riding only the TDF) In the sprint it is going to be interesting and maybe something in a breakaway with Possato… and of course something from you! I would just like to see some fresh air in Italian cycling, nothing against Simoni, Garzelli and co, but a new face for the future would be nice. Also let’s not forget Popovych. You?
DANIELE: The first days for me are going to be difficult, I’ve got to find my race legs, then let’s see.
DUNC: You told me last year, an in form Cipo is nearly impossible to beat. Now what do you think with Petacchi the man to beat?
DANIELE: I see it difficult for all us sprinters against Petacchi, he could of course have a bad day, but if he goes like last year and has Cipo’s wheel, I see it difficult for anybody to beat him. I’ll try!
There is a silence in our discussion as Chaira has bought on yet more food. This girl knows how to cook!!!
DUNC: Have you watched the Classics of the North and the MRS?
DB: No, The MSR I saw the finish but I haven’t watched all of it. As for the Classics of the North, No! I suffer too much not being there. They are the races I love and this year I wanted to have a real go. It will be for next year!
DUNC: And your plans for the rest of the year?
DANIELE: Well I need to start with the Giro then let’s see what happens. I don’t know about the TDF. The owner of Phonak is a mad cycling fan. He doesn’t really worry what the team does before or after the TDF, he just wants the team to do very well in the TDF. We have Tyler, so most of the team will be built around him for a podium finish. Phonak wasn’t going to do the Giro but he changed his mind. We will do the Vuelta as we have Sevilla. The team hasn’t done very well up to now, some results are coming in now but this doesn’t worry Phonak.
(Note: Phonak has placed two men in the top four at the just complete Tour de Romandie – Tyler Hamilton in 1st, and Tadej Valjavec 4th. Read the PEZ-Report here – ed.)
DUNC: The colours on the Jersey are different (My polite way of saying it’s ugly!!)
DANIELE: Well it gets noticed in the group for sure, plus Phonak is the only sponsor on the Jersey apart for BMC cyles on the shoulders, so it’s fairly clear! Talking of jerseys, I have to give you the jersey that I promised you last year when I won the 5th stage of the Tour Mediterranean!
DANIELE: Of course!
We swap jerseys. I give some more A-Style stuff and he his Domina Jersey from last year’s win. He drives me back into centre of Arezzo under yet another rain storm. (It was 27°C when I arrived at Daniele’s house and 7° when we left!!) I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful city, and could recommend you some nice little Trattoria’s to eat but the best place to eat in Arezzo is no doubt Daniele’s and Chaira’s house!! If you do visit and you are by bike, look him up, he will probably take you for a ride (at a speed I go only with my Vespa!)
Ciao for now
In spite of a heavy schedule visiting of the Italian pro peloton one rider at a time, Dunc still manages to meet the locals…
You can get more info at the Phonak Website: Phonak-Cycling.ch