Bennett in seventh heaven in Italy
Becomes first Irish man to win stage in Giro d’Italia since Roche in 1987
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.”