Thursday 21 September 2017

Sam Bennett: 'After this week, I know now I can win a Grand Tour stage'

Giro d'Italia Diary: Friday, May 12 - Stage 7: Castrovillari to Alberobello (224km)

Australia's Caleb Ewan (centre) sprints to win ahead of Colombia's Fernando Gaviria (right) and Ireland's Sam Bennett (left) in the 7th stage of the 100th Giro d'Italia. Photo: Getty Images
Australia's Caleb Ewan (centre) sprints to win ahead of Colombia's Fernando Gaviria (right) and Ireland's Sam Bennett (left) in the 7th stage of the 100th Giro d'Italia. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Bennett

Our hotel last night smelled like farts and eggs but for once it was nothing to do with me. After a good night's sleep I woke up today feeling a lot better and with a bunch sprint finish on the cards, I really thought today was going to be my day.

At the start this morning, I noticed some dude in a pink jersey line up alongside race leader Bob Jungels and ride the neutralised section at the head of the peloton. I was too far back to see his face and it was only after the stage that I found out it was a guest of the race, actor Patrick Dempsey.

Best known for his role as Dr Shepherd in TV series 'Grey's Anatomy', if I'd known who it was I would have rode up to him and told him that he's given me more frights over the years than any bunch sprint.

I don't know how many times I've come home from training to find my girlfriend Tara crying on the couch only to find it's because she's been watching him trying to save someone's life.

Oh well, at least I can tell her 'McDreamy' is still alive after all.

At 224 kilometres long, the second longest stage of this year's Giro would take over five-and-a-half hours before we reached the finish.

With two riders dangling around three minutes clear for most of that period, a sprint finish was never really in danger so the first few hours were spent chatting with friends and coming up with ever more ingenious ways to relieve the boredom.

Runs After finding out that I'd had the runs after stage one, my German team-mate Rudi Selig has been poking and prodding me during stages in the hope that I'd laugh or cough and accidentally go on the bike.

Today I found the perfect opportunity to get him back.

With my stomach almost back to normal now, I brought a few chocolate-coated rice cakes in my pocket today. Because of the heat though, the bars had melted and half the chocolate ended up all over my face as I tried to eat them out of the wrapper on the move.

Having wiped my face with my hands, I rode up to Rudi, moaning. "Rudi, I couldn't hold it in," I groaned as I wiped the chocolate all over his arm. The look of shock and disgust on his face was priceless. "NEIN!" he screamed, before I burst out laughing.

After the guys in the team car played some German heavy metal song into our earpieces midway through the stage, there was a few minute's respite until my Austrian team-mate Patrick Konrad's voice broke the silence.

"I'm a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie world...," he sang.

Within seconds, the rest of the team were taking turns.

"Life in plastic, it's fantastic..."

Unbelievably for grown men, we knew all the words and, as the riders around us looked on bemused, we all took turns to complete the rendition.

Things got a lot more serious in the final 50km though and with the break caught with 20km to go, teams began to set their sprinters up near the front of the peloton. In the finale, my Bora Hansgrohe team-mates rode so well to get me into position for the sprint it was unreal.

They've been doing such a good job all week that teams have begun fighting for our train now and again today they were fully committed, executed everything perfectly and I couldn't have asked for more.

After fantastic riding by the others, Lukas, Rudi and I were sixth, seventh and eighth going around a right-hander with 1.7km to go. Lukas hit the front with 1.4km to go while Rudi and I held back behind Orica Scott sprinter Caleb Ewan and his lead-out man Luka Mezgec.

Shouldered As we flew under the kilometre to go banner at around 60kph, I was sitting on Rudi's wheel when Quickstep's Max Richeze came up the outside and shouldered him hard. Rudi held his ground until a second, harder shoulder from Richeze sent him flying to the right, where he hit big German sprinter Andre Greipel.

I thought we were both coming down but luckily Greipel was rock solid and never even flinched as Rudi bounced back into the middle of the sandwich before Richeze, for no apparent reason, hit him with a third shoulder.

A corner with 400 metres to go saw Rudi bring me up the inside on a bend and into fourth place behind Mezgec and Ewan.

With 350 metres to go, Rudi drew level with Mezgec but we were nailed to the barriers so he had to use a pointy elbow to make room for me and I only just got through the gap. In fairness, Orica had the line and we were lucky to get through at all.

Greipel tried to jump after Rudi's wheel but I just got in at 200 metres to go when Ewan started his sprint on the left-hand side.

I dived onto his wheel and followed him but was spun out so, with me on the right, Caleb in the middle and Fernando Gaviria on the left, I had to sit down for a split second with 75 metres to go to take the pressure off my chain so it would go into a higher gear. But within seconds I had run out of road.

In a photo finish, I lost the stage by less than half a wheel which is fair enough, but having someone come from behind to snatch second away from me by a tyre on the line, for the second time this week, drove me crazy.

Having finished third on Wednesday, at least second would have been another stepping stone. I know now I can win a Grand Tour stage but I don't know how many more chances I'll get on this race.

  • Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport 1, 12.0

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