Why Bora-hansgrohe must back down over Sam Bennett decision

Posted on: March 19th, 2019

Sam Bennett selection Giro

Staying classy: Sam Bennett was told last December that he definitely was not riding the Giro. It was a questionable decision then that now looks like an act of lunacy.


With the season not yet two months old two things are patently clear; Sam Bennett is in the form of his life and de-selecting him for the Giro is not something Bora-hansgrohe can stand over.

Nothing in sport is straightforward, of course. And things get more complex the higher up the food chain we go.

However, based on current form; leaving Bennett out of the Tour de France line-up, never mind the Giro, looks like a very bad move.

The question now is whether Bora-hansgrohe has the nerve to stick by its plan and go to the Giro with Pascal Ackermann as sprinter rather than Sam Bennett; here’s why:


Sam Bennett’s form

Irish sprinter Bennett is flying. But there’s more to it than that. He seems to be oozing with confidence and he’s dominating the sprints. He’s in a ‘big win state of mind’.

He’s developed a late kick that looks to be the fastest in pro cycling at present. And he’s also sprinting with the swagger of an athlete at the top of his game.

It’s a swagger we probably first saw from him during the Tour of Turkey in 2017. Though he had won big races before then, something seemed to click for him in the sprints in Turkey.

He physically bossed the action there and he hasn’t really looked back since. This year he’s already won four races; two at Paris-Nice and a stage apiece at UAE Tour and Vuelta a San Juan.

He’s beaten all the big names and has now broken into that group of riders that could win Milan-Sanremo on Saturday.

It will be very difficult to win, of course. But Sam Bennett is one of the favourites now. Nobody would be surprised if he won it; that’s how far he’s come in recent months.

Bora-hansgrohe must see the folly of leaving Bennett out of the Giro line-up at a time when his form is so good and his stock has risen so much. Are they really going to ignore what everyone else can see?


Sam Bennett selection Giro

Sam Bennett wins the first of his seven Tour of Turkey stages. Since his first outing in the race in 2017 he’s been transformed.


Rigid early selection a bad idea

The decision to select Ackermann ahead of Bennett is understandable on paper. He’s the German champion in a German team and he’s signed up until the end of 2021.

He’s 25 years old and Bennett is 28 years. Selecting Ackermann is an investment in the future and Bennett’s contract expires this year.

The team has been open about wanting success with young German talent. It’s a very common aspiration in cycling; a team aiming to develop riders from its own country.

However, news emerged way back in early December that Bennett was not riding the Giro.

Why the team felt the need to pick such a definite line-up at that point, two months before the first race of the season, is bizarre.

Riders are often given a programme early but there is always flexibility; injured or out of form athletes being dropped in favour of those doing better than expected.

But the news about the Giro team emerged with no wriggle room built in; Bennett was definitely out and Ackermann was definitely in – for a race five months down the road.

It’s the rigidness of the decision that perplexes, not that the riders were told of their programme pre seasons.

But now Bennett has taken four blue chip victories and Ackermann has just one, more minor, win in 2019.


Sam Bennett selection Giro

Bennett’s three wins at the Giro last year on their own would be enough to convince most other teams to pick him for the 2019 race.


When those results so far this season are compared against each other, the perplexing decision of last December now just looks foolish.

Bora-hansgrohe management has done a great job with this team. They have turned it into world beaters; a process Sam Bennett has benefitted from during his time with the squad.

But good management also calls for flexibility. And Bennett has played a very significant part in the team’s journey from solid ProConti squad when he joined to top WorldTour outfit.

Unlike moving to definitively exclude him from the Giro line-up last December, showing flexibility now and including him in the team makes very solid business sense.


Pressure on Pascal Ackermann

Ackermann didn’t pick himself for the Giro and it would be unfair to dump on the young German. He’s a quality bike rider.

Last year he won a stage of the Tour de Romandie, then a Critérium du Dauphiné stage before taking the German title and the Ride London-Surrey Classic.

There followed two stages at the Tour of Poland and victories in Brussels Cycling Classic, GP de Fourmies-La Voix du Nord and a stage at Gree-Tour of Guangxi.

It was an excellent season but this year, so far anyway, things have been slower; Clasica de Almeria (1.HC) his only win.

Still only 25-years-old, he has also never ridden a Grand Tour. The whole sport knows Ackermann is picked for the Giro at the expense of Bennett.

And that heaps huge pressure on his shoulders. He would be going into his maiden Grand Tour in the shadow of his in-form absent team mate who took three stages in the race a year ago.


Sam Bennett selection Giro

Despite understandable frustration, Sam Bennett has respected and praised his team every time he’s spoken publicly.


Leaving him in the team at the expense of Bennett is an unenviable position to put Ackermann in.

A winless Giro could set back his progress; leaving a dent in the confidence of an emerging rider.

It would also generate much comment within the cycling media and among cycling fans; something that would be very unfair to Ackermann.

He could be insulated from that pressure and negative attention if Bennett was also included in the Giro team; Bennett the sprint leader and Ackermann there to learn and take a chance if it comes.


Giro d’Italia 2018 & Paris-Nice 2019

Last year’s Giro and last week’s Paris-Nice combined make a compelling case for Bennett to go to the Giro d’Italia in May.

Last season he competed in the Giro and took three stages, despite sprinting against arguably the sprinter of the season in Elia Viviani.

Bennett knows the Giro and he knows how to go there and win. These seem like perfect prerequisites for being selected again for the race.

That kind of experience and success means even if he hadn’t hit top gear yet this season, most teams would still bet on sending him back to the Italian Grand Tour.


Sam Bennett selection Giro

Bennett lobbied the team for a leadership role at Paris-Nice and repaid their faith with two great wins that took him into the green jersey on the penultimate stage.


Last year’s Giro hat trick aside, last week’s Paris-Nice was a very significant race for Sam Bennett.

Not only did he take two impressive victories; he won after lobbying the team for a leadership role at the race.

He said a couple of months ago he was making his case within the team for protected rider status at Paris-Nice. They gave it to him and, with all the pressure that that brings, he came out on top.

Significantly, the first couple of stages didn’t go his way. He was 4th in the opener and well out of the hunt in the crosswind-hit second stage.

But he kept his head. Sam Bennett waited for his chances and demolished them when they came his way.

This is exactly the position he would be in if added to the Giro line-up now. If he got a late transfer into the team he’d be under pressure to perform.

And if the early exchanges, or some of the harder stages, didn’t go his way, he’d have to absorb it and pounce when an opportunity came his way – just as he did so stylishly in Paris-Nice.


He’s let his legs do the talking

When it emerged he wouldn’t be riding the Giro, Bennett expressed his disappointment in the media.

He didn’t hold back; expressing his annoyance in clear terms. But he didn’t get nasty and he also said he accepted the team had tough decisions to make.

In much of his public comment since then he has praised the team. And with every win he’s taken he’s talk-upped his team mates; thanking and praising them for the work they’ve done for him.

He’s been the consummate professional in the face of a Giro selection decision that was hard to understand when it was made and looks like an act of lunacy to persist with now.

If he’d said things to attack or undermine team management, it would be a big ask for them to reverse their decision.

But by behaving responsibly and biting his tongue when many others wouldn’t have, he’s actually made it very easy for the team to admit they jumped the gun and squeeze him into the line-up for Italy after all.