Tuesday 20 March 2018

Bennett dreaming of Tour after sizzling success

Ireland's Sam Bennett recorded the first victory of his professional career at the Clasica de Almeria in Spain
Ireland's Sam Bennett recorded the first victory of his professional career at the Clasica de Almeria in Spain

Gerard Cromwell

Sam Bennett took the first victory of his fledgling professional career with the German NetApp Endura team when he outsprinted a 19-strong breakaway group to win the prestigious one-day Clasica de Almeria in Spain.

In only his third race as a pro, the Carrick-On-Suir youngster made the winning move after the final climb of the 178km race, the third-category Aljibe de la Cruz, with 36km to go, and despite the presence of four of top WorldTour team Movistar in the move, managed to outgun them all in the sprint to the line.

"I'm really, really happy," said the 24-year-old. "The team took absolutely every opportunity they got and made my day pretty straightforward. This win is the result of great teamwork."

Having taken third on a stage of the Tour of Oman a couple of weeks ago and worn the white jersey of best young rider at the Tour of Qatar, Bennett's name has already come to the attention of his better known rivals and his reputation as a sprinter saw them try to get rid of him on the climbs yesterday.

"Movistar tried to make it hard all day," he said. "I thought they wouldn't really know me or the team but they knew us straight away and set a really hard tempo on the climbs to try and get rid of me, but I figured that if they were riding so hard to soften me up for the end, they must be afraid of me."

Alongside four Movistar riders in the 19-man escape group were three of Bennett's new NetApp Endura team – Tiago Machado, Erick Rowsell and Iker Camano – and this trio did everything they could to set up their young Irishman for the final gallop to the line.

With Movistar all set to launch sprinter Juan Jose Lobato into the last corner, Bennett decided to embark on his own sprint early and, despite fading slightly towards the line, he managed to hold on for the biggest victory of his fledgling career.

With NetApp Endura having recently secured a wildcard entry to their first Tour de France in July, Bennett's victory will do him no harm when it comes to team selection for the world's biggest race.

"It'd be a dream to ride the Tour," he said. "But I'm just going to have to keep riding my best and see how it pans out."

Meanwhile, national road race champion Matt Brammeier retained his lead in both the king of the mountains and points classifications at the 11-day Tour of Langkawi yesterday.

Brammeier infiltrated a large split of 35 riders early on in the 110km stage and added to his mountains leader's tally by taking maximum points on the first climb of the day.

On the velodrome, Caroline Ryan finished sixth in the women's points race at the Track World Championships in Colombia, while Damien Shaw of Cork team Aqua Blue took victory at the Cycleways Cup in Navan ahead of UCD's Anthony Walsh and Shaw's team-mate Dylan Foley.

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