Cy­cling:

Ir­ish rider em­u­lates Roche in 1987 by win­ning an­other stage this year

The Irish Times - - Front Page - Shane Stokes

Sam Ben­nett seized vic­tory on the fa­mous Imola cir­cuit dur­ing stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia yes­ter­day.

Mo­tor­sports fan Sam Ben­nett seized vic­tory on the fa­mous Imola cir­cuit on Thurs­day, jump­ing early to over­haul two break­away rid­ers and dom­i­nat­ing the sprint to the line. Ben­nett was prominent in the clos­ing kilo­me­tres of stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia, re­main­ing close to the front on a climb in­side the fi­nal ten min­utes of rac­ing, and then hav­ing the con­fi­dence to make his move.

“It was a tough fi­nal,” Ben­nett said in the post-stage in­ter­view. “There were still two guys in the front. I didn’t know how much en­ergy they had left, and I didn’t want an­other stage get­ting away from me. So I de­cided to go early. I didn’t know if I could hold it or not, but I think I caught some guys by sur­prise, so it worked to my ad­van­tage.”

Ben­nett took the first Grand Tour stage win of his ca­reer and be­came the fourth Ir­ish Giro stage win­ner - last Fri­day when he beat points clas­si­fi­ca­tion leader Elia Vi­viani to the line. Since then he has kept the mo­men­tum go­ing, re­main­ing in the main bunch on stage 10 when Vi­viani and oth­ers were dropped, and then pick­ing up third at the fin­ish. He had hoped to chase vic­tory but two rid­ers broke clear and were able to hold off the pelo­ton’s chase.

That was firmly on his mind on Thurs­day’s stage, with Ben­nett de­ter­mined not to miss out again. His Bora-hans­grohe team did what it could to help him out, but the Car­rick-on-Suir rider then had to take over on the fi­nal climb, mark­ing moves and even clip­ping off the front briefly.

“It was a bit of con­fi­dence,” he said, ex­plain­ing that un­ex­pected ag­gres­sion so close to a sprint. “I saw peo­ple look­ing at each other, and I thought, ‘you know what, maybe I will slip away. There could be crashes on the de­scent, you never know, and then it is bet­ter to come from the front rather than to try to make up ground.’”

Ag­gres­sive

Ben­nett was also con­cerned by the ag­gres­sive Bahrain-Merida rider Matej Mo­horic, and said his push for­ward was to be ready for him. Although Mo­horic did sub­se­quently man­age to get clear, team­ing up with Mo­vis­tar’s Car­los Be­tan­cur, chasing by those be­hind kept the gap to a cou­ple of sec­onds. Once in­side the fi­nal kilo­me­tre, Ben­nett had suf­fi­cient con­fi­dence to make a bridg­ing move him­self, launch­ing with 400 me­tres to go, thun­der­ing past the duo out front and then celebrating be­fore the line.

Net­ting his sec­ond stage win of the race and what is his fifth podium fin­ish brings him even closer to the Giro’s maglia ci­clamino, the pur­ple points jer­sey. It is the equiv­a­lent of the Tour de France’s green jer­sey, and Ben­nett is now just 22 points be­hind Vi­viani.

The Ital­ian blew on Thurs­day’s stage, crack­ing on the run in to the fin­ish and ended up over nine min­utes be­hind Ben­nett. That’s a morale boost for the Ir­ish rider, but he in­sisted that he was fo­cussed on his own race. “We knew in the cross­winds [that he was dropped], but then we heard it was back on,” Ben­nett ex­plained. “Then when it was lined out again we heard he was gone again. It didn’t re­ally mat­ter if he was there or not, we wanted to race to win. We were just try­ing to keep good po­si­tion and race tac­ti­cally well.”

No Ir­ish rider has won the race’s points jer­sey. If Ben­nett can keep his mo­men­tum go­ing, he has a strong chance of do­ing so. How­ever he doesn’t want to get dis­tracted at this point. “I will just fo­cus on stage wins,” he said, talk­ing about his im­me­di­ate tac­tics. “It is get­ting closer, but I am just go­ing to fo­cus on stage wins. Then in the last week, if it is re­ally close then maybe I’ll look at it.”

Ben­nett will have the chance to land a third stage vic­tory on Fri­day. The 180km race from Fer­rara to Nervesa della Battaglia is mainly flat and a bunch sprint is the most likely out­come. If that mass gal­lop to the line does in­deed pan out, Ben­nett will be one of the big favourites for the win. Mean­while, for race leader Si­mon Yates (Mitchel­ton-Scott), the stage will be about stay­ing safe and re­gain­ing en­ergy prior to this week­end’s big mountain stages.

This is also the case for Ire­land’s Nicolas Roche (BMC Rac­ing Team) and Ryan Mullen (Trek-Se­gafredo), who are me­ter­ing out their en­ergy in or­der to make the most of op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fi­nal week.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DANIEL DAL ZENNARO/EPA

Sam Ben­nett (Bora-Hans­grohe) cel­e­brates as he crosses the fin­ish line to win the 12th stage of the Giro d’Italia, over 214kms from Osimo to Imola, yes­ter­day.

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