Ben­nett in sev­enth heaven in Italy

Be­comes first Ir­ish man to win stage in Giro d’Italia since Roche in 1987

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Giro d’Italia:

It took three Grand Tour par­tic­i­pa­tions, but Sam Ben­nett has now grabbed a sprint vic­tory in one of cy­cling’s top stage races. The Car­rick-on-Suir rider blasted in first on yes­ter­day’s sev­enth stage of the Giro d’Italia, show­ing po­si­tion­ing, pa­tience and then power in the sprint into Praia a Mare.

Ben­nett had fin­ished third last week on the first two road race stages, and said af­ter each one that he got his tim­ing wrong, thus giv­ing Ital­ian rider Elia Vi­viani the up­per hand. This time around, Ben­nett did things to per­fec­tion: he tracked points jer­sey leader Vi­viani in­side the fi­nal kilo­me­tres, stay­ing tight to his rear wheel and not pan­ick­ing even when they were far back in the pelo­ton.

Ben­nett re­mained on Vi­viani’s wheel when the lat­ter’s Quick­Step Floors team dragged him close to the front, then con­tin­ued to bide his time un­til the right mo­ment. That meant freewheeling twice in­side the fi­nal 300 me­tres, as well as brush­ing shoul­ders with one of Vi­viani’s team­mates as he drifted back.

The Ital­ian then launched, but was un­able to match Ben­nett when he kicked in­side 100 me­tres to go.

“I feel re­lieved. I’ve been so close so many times in the Giro,” said Ben­nett, who was sec­ond, third, third and third on stages last year and third twice in this edi­tion. “To re­ally get the tim­ing right was key with so many fast sprint­ers here. It is not easy to beat Vi­viani. He re­ally knows what he is do­ing. But I think my time came . . . at one point I thought it would never come.”

Ben­nett noted that bid­ing his time was key to the suc­cess. “I think the hard­est thing to­day was to have the pa­tience. There was one point where I thought that Quick­Step had left it too late. But I saw them look­ing back, check­ing me out, and I was won­der­ing if they were try­ing to get me to panic and go too early again. So I was glad I kept my cool.”

Once he got into po­si­tion, he had to de­flect another Quick­Step Floors’ tac­tic.

“His team­mate tried to take Vi­viani’s wheel to more breath­ing space, and I kind of had to close the door there,” he smiled, re­fer­ring to the rub of shoul­ders which got that rider to back off.

Ben­nett’s vic­tory is the fourth Ir­ish win in the Giro. Shay El­liott, Stephen Roche and Martin Ear­ley pre­vi­ously tri­umphed on stages of the race.

It is the eighth Ir­ish Grand Tour stage win in his­tory, with Sean Kelly, Dan Martin, Ni­co­las Roche and Philip Deignan also tri­umphant on stages of cy­cling’s three week races.

This week­end sees the Giro tackle two moun­tain stages, but a more con­fi­dent – and more re­laxed – Ben­nett will have fur­ther chances later in the race.

Now he’s taken his maiden stage win, another may well be on the way.

Sam Ben­nett: “The hard­est thing to­day was to have the pa­tience.”

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