For a second day in a row the Italians made the running in the Three Days de La Panne, with fastman Daniele Bennati (Lampre) clinching the bunch sprint which decided the 227 kilometre stage. His compatriot Luca Paolini (Liquigas) continues to lead overall.

Riding into a strong headwind at the finish at Koksijde, Bennati accelerated from a long way out, just fending off Australian Graeme Brown (Rabobank) and Lithuanian Tomas Vaitkus (Discovery Channel).

Tipped to take over from Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) as Italy?s fastest sprinter, Bennati recognised that ?it was a very tough battle today, the cross and head-winds all along the coast meant my team had to work very hard to pull back a day-long break and we only just made it.?

?I had expected to do better this spring already, but I came down with ?flu after Paris-Nice and couldn?t do a good ride in Milan - San Remo. Now, though, I?m at around 90 percent of my top form.?

The sprinters teams nearly miscalculated about the time needed to pull back in a day-long breakaway by 2003 junior World Champion Serguy Lagutin (Navigators) and Jarno Van Mingeroet (Jartazi). Only a lengthy couple of turns on the front by Tom Boonen (Quick Step) in person, keen to test his form before Sunday, caused the duo finally to throw in the towel justl three kilometres from the finish.

Bennati?s team-mate Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), second in the opening stage and Paolini?s closest pursuer on gc, just nine seconds back, is now the big favourite to take the race, which finishes on Thursday with a short road stage in the morning and an 11 kilometre time trial in the afternoon.

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