Sunday 20 August 2017

Sam Bennett: 'I could smell my brake blocks burning on the hairpins'

Giro d'Italia Diary

Matthew Teggart of the An Post Chain Reaction team takes the first Irish stage win of this year's Rás in Bundoran yesterday Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Matthew Teggart of the An Post Chain Reaction team takes the first Irish stage win of this year's Rás in Bundoran yesterday Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Sam Bennett

Tuesday May 23, Stage 16: Rovetta to Bormio (222km)

With the biggest, toughest stage of this Giro ahead of me today, I went to bed early last night but didn't get to sleep until around 11.0.

Up until last night, I've been sleeping well on this Giro but, maybe subconsciously worried about getting over the three first category mountains within the time cut today, I found myself wide awake at 5.0 this morning.

With nothing else to do, I flicked through my phone and after reading the breaking news about last night's bomb blast in Manchester, immediately copped myself on.

It was hard not be grateful after that and my outlook changed completely. Okay, I had to race up a few mountains on a pushbike today but I reminded myself that I was alive, healthy and getting paid to do something I love.

At the beginning of today's stage I felt okay and even chanced my arm in a move by just following a guy who rolled off the front.

I thought I might get over one or two climbs in the break and give myself some sliding room for later on the stage, but it was the next move that stuck.

I was feeling okay on the 25km-long Mortirolo Pass but I tried to stay in the peloton for too long and used a lot of power.

Cresting the summit, I was only a minute off the back of the peloton and two places behind Chichi (Cesare Benedetti), who hurled down the descent.

With two guys between us, I couldn't get around them for a while but when I did, I tried to go after him and make it back into the peloton by the bottom of the descent.

I could smell my brake blocks burning with every corner and as we use tubular tyres, which are glued on, I was a bit worried about overheating my carbon rims and rolling one of them on a hairpin.

Seeing the back of the bunch on the straights though and coming back up through the team cars, I started judging their line to enter and exit the corners, until I nearly got wiped out by one of them on a hairpin and had to slam on.

I locked up my front wheel for a second, which gave me a fright and after that I didn't have the power to close the gap.

Grupetto

Instead, I waited for the group of about 20 riders behind me. It wasn't the last grupetto on the road but with Italian rider Pippo Pozzato in it, I knew we'd be safe enough.

Pippo pulled pretty hard on the climbs and tried to organise it that everyone rolled through to the front in the short valley sections. Even though we weren't riding hard, a few guys were trying to save themselves at the back and wouldn't contribute so Pippo had words with them.

OK, nobody wanted to ride, but we all knew we had to get to the finish within a certain percentage of the winners time or we would be out of the race.

Cresting the 43km-long Stelvio, the highest point of this Giro, it was only 4 degrees, and with the road banked by high snow drifts, I grabbed a gilet from a soigneur and stuffed a newspaper from a spectator down the front to keep the cold off my chest on the way down.

We were getting time checks to the front of the race all day but the most important check was what time the stage winner, Vincenzo Nibali, finished.

Once we found out how long it had taken him to complete the stage, we added on the time-limit percentage and knew we had an hour and six minutes to get to the finish after him.

In the end, we lost around 47 minutes and though we took the last climb pretty easy, I could really feel the strain on my joints and tendons after such a long day in the saddle.

On a seven-and-a-half-hour stage, I went through around 15 bottles today, although some of those were thrown away on climbs to shed excess weight. I tried to fuel as much as possible - to the point that my stomach felt sickly full for most of the stage, although that didn't stop me almost running out of energy 5km from the top of Umbrailpass after 195km.

It was like everything in my body just evaporated and I had to grab a couple of energy bars from the car to get me home. On the 20km descent to the finish we had no lead car or motorbike and had to ride through crowds of people who were walking back down, which was a bit sketchy.

After being really worried about it this morning, I actually enjoyed today's stage but I went so deep that my muscles are pretty sore now and I'm wondering how the hell I'm going to recover ahead of an uphill start tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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