Stickybottle

From lanterne rouge to rampant winner: The Sam Bennett story

Posted on: May 18th, 2018

Lanterne rouge to rampant winner: The Sam Bennett story

Sam Bennett wrapped up backstage after his second Giro stage win. But let’s not forget what he’s put his mind and body through to get there; it hasn’t been easy.

 

 

Having struggled with crashes and illness on his first three Grand Tours, Sam Bennett is finally blooming on the big stage.

And though he has already taken two victories in the Giro d’Italia he believes today, Friday, is a great chance to make it three.

Sam Bennett’s Grand Tour story hasn’t quite been rags to riches. But it has been one of lanterne rouge to triumphant stage winner.

Bennett made his Grand Tour debut at the Tour de France in 2015 and abandoned.

He was ill before the race and struggled throughout, calling it a day on stage 17. He later told stickybottle he had been urinating blood.

The following year he went back to the Tour and crashed heavily on stage 1 into Utah Beech.

While it would not be diagnosed until much later in the race, he suffered a broken hand. But he struggled on and made it to Paris, with a clamp on his hand.

He was last man – some 5 hours 17 minutes and 14 seconds down on winner Chris Froome; lanterne rogue, but he still made it.

Last year he decided to target the Giro. But after taking 9th on the opening stage he fell ill.

And while he recovered to finish 3rd three times and 2nd once; the stage win he wanted eluded him.

 

Lanterne rouge to rampant winner: The Sam Bennett story

Shane Archbold pushes Sam Bennett home into Utah Beach on the Tour de France stage 1 in 2016.

Lanterne rouge to rampant winner: The Sam Bennett story

Sam Bennett’s hand on the 2016 Tour; he had to wear a clamp, like a tiny version of a plastic boot often worn for a broken lower leg. But he finished in Paris, even if it was last man.

 

This time around, on his fourth Grand Tour, he is riding like a man possessed. He said after taking a series of wins at the end of last year that winning on smaller races would help him win the bigger ones.

And now he has been proven right, with bells on. While finishing 3rd on the second and third stages, he won the sprint for victory with a perfectly timed effort last Friday.

And yesterday it looked like two men may just stay away to rob him of a chance for victory.

However, Sam Bennett opened his sprint very early – so early it was more a late attack than a long sprint – and lashed the rest of the 51-man main field.

Today’s stage is 180km from Ferrara to Nervesa della Battaglia. Like yesterday, it features a late cat 4 ascent and has Bennett’s name all over it.

With his second win – and with points classification leader Elia Viviani (QuickStep) not placing – Bennett is closer to the points jersey now.

Viviani still leads, with 184 points. But Bennett now has 162. Furthermore, there are 50 for a stage win.

Bennett said he was delighted to win yesterday and also pleased with the manner of his victory.

“The way it happened, I had to go so early and I pulled it off; it’s a nice way to win. It gives me confidence,” he said.

“We still had two guys in front,” he added of Carlos Betancur (Movistar) and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) dangling strongly off the front until deep into the final kilometre.

 

Lanterne rouge to rampant winner: The Sam Bennett story

A huge juncture in his development, in March 2017 taking his first ever WorldTour win; at Paris-Nice. Bennett ahead of a four-rider blanket finish for 2nd that included Kristoff, Kittel, Degenkolb, Matthews. Demare and Greipel are just behind in 6th and 7th. It was a quality top 10 and Bennett was the best.

Lanterne rouge to rampant winner: The Sam Bennett story

Another big week: Claiming his fourth stage in five days at the WorldTour-ranked Tour of Turkey last Autumn. He would have won five of the six stages but for a crash in the final day’s gallop. Bennett could be seen growing in confidence every day. And by the end of the race he showed real swagger and physicality as he bossed the gallops.

 

On Tuesday at the Giro, Mohoric won the stage when he was one of two men who survived ahead of a reduced peloton to win.

That left a frustrated Bennett sprinting in 30 seconds later for 3rd place; and wondering what migh thave – indeed, should have – been.

As a result, he was determined the same scenario would not play out yesterday.

That meant at one point in the finale, after the climb, he went off the front briefly. And later he opened his sprint early to ensure he would catch the leaders.

Neither of those moves is usually pulled off by sprinters. But it is a measure of Bennett’s confidence and his condition – and not just his sprint – that he was willing and able to do both and still won.

“I didn’t know how much energy they had left but I didn’t want another stage getting away from me, so I decided to go early,” he confirmed of hunting down the escapees.

“I didn’t know if I could hold it or not. I think I caught some guys by surprise, so it worked to my advantage.”

Asked if yesterday’s confidence came as a result of his first stage win, he wasn’t sure.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “But maybe I wouldn’t have been so firm in my decision-making if I hadn’t won a stage already. Maybe I would have hesitated.

“It would have been a different outcome in the final. I think. I was surer of my decision. When I decided on something, I just did it.”

 

Lanterne rouge to rampant winner: The Sam Bennett story

Recently engaged to Tara; Bennett is on a high. Above, pictured the day his home club Carrick Wheelers put on a ceremony for him when he went ProContinental.

Lanterne rouge to rampant winner: The Sam Bennett story

The duo 4½ years on; not in Sean Kelly Square in Carrick celebrating his entry into the pro game but on the Imola race track celebrating the WorldTour rider’s second Grand Tour stage win in a week.

 

Bennett also said he was determined that yesterday, unlike Tuesday, he would – at the very least – be sprinting for victory.

“I said to the guys ‘our number one priority today is to make it a sprint’. If I had to do the sprint alone; so be it.

“But it had to be a sprint today. It couldn’t be like the last day where we were sprinting for third place, that’s for nothing.”

Asked why he shot off the front at one point, he said it was a safety move.

“I wanted to be sure I was at the front for the descent, because it was raining and sometimes there can be crashes,” he explained.

“I thought it would be better to go to the front and then drop back than have to make up ground afterwards.

“Then I saw people were sleeping a little bit. And I thought I could try and catch them by surprise.

“I went early because the gap still had to be closed,” Bennett added of his sprint and the fact the two leaders were still clear.

“They were my target, I sprinted towards them. But I didn’t think the finish was that far away.

“I was starting to run out of legs. But when I looked back and saw the gap; that gave me more legs.”

He also acknowledged the points jersey was more of a target now. But the priority was still getting another stage.

“At the moment I’m just looking for stages. I know we closed the gap a nice bit,” he added of hunting down points classification leader and double stage winner Viviani.

“But if I use up energy in the intermediate sprints and I miss another opportunity to win a stage I’d never forgive myself.

“In the last week if I see that it’s still close and the opportunity is there, then I’ll make a call.

“But for now… we’ve got another sprint stage tomorrow and we have to go again.”

Bennett got engaged recently, on Friday the 13th; a day he said had always been lucky for him.

Today is not Friday the 13th; but it is Friday and it is stage 13 – let’s see if he can capture the threepeat.

 

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