Monday 24 July 2017

Sam Bennett: 'You guys just stay here with these f***ing porkers!'

Giro d'Italia Diary: Wednesday, May 17 - Stage 11: Firenze to Bagno de Romagna (161kms)

Omar Fraile of Dimension Data punches the air after winning yesterday’s stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia. Photo: Luk Benies/Getty
Omar Fraile of Dimension Data punches the air after winning yesterday’s stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia. Photo: Luk Benies/Getty

Sam Bennett

With the only 15km of flat roads on today's stage coming right at the start, as a non-climber today was always going to be about survival for me - getting over the four classified mountains within the time limit and in good enough shape to be able to contest what should be two sprint finishes in the next two days.

After 25km of eyeballs-out racing this morning, I was still in the top half of the peloton 5km from the summit of the Passo della Consuma but, having eaten a bit too much before the start, I was beginning to get a stitch, so knowing that a big grupetto of non-climbers had already formed further down the slope, I sat up to ride at my own pace and jump in with them over the top.

Even though I wore a skinsuit today to make myself faster on the descents, I was roasting near the top, and having thrown off my bottles on the way up to make my bike as light as possible, I grabbed a fresh one from our team car behind as it went past. What happened next reminds me of a Dara Ó Briain sketch I saw a while ago.

Instead of squirting the cold water into my mouth from the side so that I could see where I was going, I kept my head down and just squeezed the bottle. Because it was vertical though, when the bottle top popped it simply sucked all the water, spit and everything else back out of my mouth again, so instead of getting a drink I got a mouth rinse.

Rolled

As my group of around 30 riders rolled across the summit and began the descent, a couple of minutes behind the back of the peloton, it seemed that most of the main sprinters had made the grupetto, although it became apparent that some of them were missing and caught out in a group further back when a team car suddenly drove up alongside us at the start of the second climb (at about 50km) and started giving out to his riders for letting it happen.

Read more: Sam Bennett: 'You can end up with an arse like a teenager's face'

I was laughing so much that I can't remember all of the abuse he hurled at them but "You guys just f****ing stay here with these other porkers!" was up there with the best piece of managerial advice I've heard in a bike race.

Usually in the grupetto we climb at a pace everyone can handle and then tear down the descents to make up time lost going up.

When Mark Cavendish and his lieutenant Bernie Eisel are in the grupetto they seem to descend much faster and it seems a lot hairier too. I've often seen Bernie lose grip on a corner only to correct himself at the last second and stay upright.

We descended the second climb pretty well today but there was a few sketchy corners where the tar had melted, and seeing one of the Trek guys being put into an ambulance after going over the crash barriers didn't do a whole lot for my confidence.

After that I was a little bit trigger-happy with the brakes on the bends and locked up my back wheel once or twice, but a lot of guys were the same and we gave each other plenty of space.

As the battle for the stage win and the pink jersey raged further up the road, the Lotto team of Andre Greipel mainly set the tempo at the front of our group on the climbs while we all took turns on the slightly downhill or flatter sections.

Even though we sprinters know we will all be killing each other in the last kilometre tomorrow, there is a camaraderie in the grupetto. Everybody in the group knows what it's like to be in poor form, injured or just have a bad day so everyone tries to encourage and cajole each other over the steep climbs.

If you're stuck for a drink, another team or rider will give you a bottle and vice versa.

Our team car gave a back wheel to another rider today because his car wasn't there and he would have been stranded otherwise.

Going into the last climb 11 minutes behind the front of the race, we calculated the time cut, reckoned we had around 48 minutes in total to lose and realised we were able to climb it without too much pressure before descending to the finish 26 minutes behind stage winner Omar Fraile.

While race leader Tom Dumoulin and his squad will have their turn to rest tomorrow, it will be the sprinters' team who take up the slack.

Tomorrow and the next day are probably the last two opportunities for a sprint finish on this Giro. Having had the first couple of sprint stages taken away from me through illness I feel under a lot of pressure to hit the nail on the head on one of those days.

But the pressure isn't coming from the team, it's coming from me. Even though I finished third twice, I know I've more to give in this race.

I'm 26 now, not exactly old, but having won my first WorldTour stage in March I feel I need to step up again this year. I don't want to wait another year to get a win on a Grand Tour.

I think I'm back to fitness now, so hopefully I'll get another chance tomorrow.

Giro d'Italia,

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Irish Independent

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