Wednesday 18 October 2017

Sam Bennett: 'With eight bottles stuffed down my skinsuit, I rode back up like John Wayne'

Luxembourg’s Bob Jungels celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 15th stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia. Photo: Luk Benies/AFP/Getty Images
Luxembourg’s Bob Jungels celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 15th stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia. Photo: Luk Benies/AFP/Getty Images

Sam Bennett Giro d'Italia diary

Saturday May 20, Stage 14: Castellania to Oropa (131km)

Usually in the early kilometres of a stage, I'm just floating around the peloton as guys try to get up the road in the early break.

As a sprinter with nothing to do until the final 200 metres of a flat stage, I can take my time to ease myself into the race.

But with the sprint stages over and a 13km long first-category mountain finish today, my job was to try and help get some of my team-mates into the break on the flat roads this morning.

I was to bring our guys to the front, help launch them up the road, follow moves, let gaps open in the line if one of them got clear and, if they got caught again, slowly bring them back to the front so they could do it all over again.

My new role definitely gave me a whole new level of appreciation for what my team-mates do day in, day out. Guys like 'Chichi' Benedetti and Jan Barta do this every day, every race of the year, and never complain about it once.

Chichi's only a little guy but he's so strong. The other day he'd been on the front for 5km as we roared towards the finish when Gregor Muhlberger came past to give him a break.

"Don't pass me," he said. "Just tell me to go faster!"

We were doing 60kph at the time!

On the second stage, Jan rode out front all day and then came back for me when I got sick and coaxed me along for the last 50km.

That was a six hour plus stage. People don't see the work the guys do but they are invaluable to the team and vital to our success.

Heading towards the summit finish today, I tried to get our climbers Patrick Konrad and Jose Mendes into a good position for the ascent, but it absolutely killed me.

Riding into the wind, not quite flat out, but above threshold for kilometres longer than usual, I just didn't have the engine for it and was gone 5km from the bottom.

I don't really go uphill too well, so having lost five minutes by the time the climb started, I was a bit worried about how long it would take me to get up it.

Normally, with an upcoming sprint stage as an excuse, I'd have had an armchair ride until then and be able to ride it at my own pace.

Because I did a tiny bit of work today though, I was completely dead on the ascent and lost 16 minutes to stage winner and race leader Tom Dumoulin.

Thankfully, today was the shortest stage of this Giro.

Sunday May 21, Stage 15: Valdengo to Bergamo (199km)

With my role similar to yesterday this morning, a move with none of our guys in it went clear early on so, with the peloton just about to sit up, I went across.

As I'm lying third in the points competition though, points leader Fernando Gaviria came across to us about 10 seconds later, so we were soon brought to heel.

There was absolutely no let up in the pace today and with 104km covered in the first two hours I was wondering how the hell I was going to finish the stage, never mind the rest of this Giro.

After an hour of racing, most of the guys were out of drinks so I went back to the team car for bottles for them and it nearly killed me, and not just because of the frantic chase to regain contact.

As I was wearing a more aerodynamic all-in-one skinsuit today, I'd no back pockets in it so I zipped down the front of the skinsuit and managed to stuff eight bottles down it instead.

Squashing them all in meant some of them went down pretty low and as I rode back up through the peloton like John Wayne, a couple of bumps in the road nearly castrated me.

One by one, I reached my team-mates and handed the bottles out, all the time watching their faces in case one of them reacted to a funny taste, although I had two left over so I think they were safe enough.

Jan wasn't even on an aero bike today yet he was off the front with four others for 40km soon after.

I don't know why they didn't let them go because the closest man on GC was over an hour down but with the whole peloton lined out trying to catch them, their lead hovered between 12 and 30 seconds as I hung on for dear life.

At the feed zone after 92km, a few guys at the front tried to call a stalemate but they were ignored, so we ripped past the soigneurs standing at the side of the roads with our musettes of food.

There was no way I was grabbing my feed bag today. It would have been like opening a parachute.

We were there so fast that I hadn't even had time to eat what I had with me anyway.

Eventually a new group containing Philip Deignan went clear but even then, the chase continued.

On the first climb I was pretty close to the front towards the top but with 40km to go and another mountain looming I eased up and rode over the top with Jan a few others. I know I have a rest day tomorrow, but Tuesday's stage 16 is so hard that I couldn't take the risk of fighting to stay in the group and then being so tired in those mountains that I'd get eliminated.

Up front, Philip was doing an awesome ride and his four-man group were only caught with 4km to go, which shows how strong the Letterkenny man is when he's given a chance to ride for himself.

Our climber Patrick was on a great day too and although he missed a new nine-man move that went clear with 3.5km to go, he caught them in the finishing straight and finished sixth on the stage, behind winner Bob Jungels.

Patrick is a beast - a sprinter caught in a climber's body according to team tests, and he was little bit disappointed afterwards as he was coming up fast and felt that he could maybe have taken the stage if he'd had another hundred metres. It was a brilliant ride for him but the line just came too soon.

Having been caught by the grupetto with around 35km to go, I finished safely inside the time limit 19 minutes later.

There are plenty more mountains coming this week, so I'm looking forward to a lie-in tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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