Carrick-On-Suir sprinter Sam Bennett notched up the best result of his fledgling professional career when he outgalloped some of the fastest men in the world to finish third on the final stage of the Tour of Oman.
Bennett finished just behind multiple Tour de France stage winner Andre Greipel of Lotto Belisol and French star Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) in Matrah Corniche after a five-man escape – which included compatriot Nicolas Roche, who finished 117th on the stage – had been reeled in.
"It was a really fast start today," said Bennett. "It was hard to conserve energy as there wasn't much opportunity to hide. The guys did a great job minding me during the stage. Bartosz (Huzarski) got me over the main climb of the day in the second group.
"The rest of the guys helped in the final 15km, to get me up to the front then Zak (Dempster) did a fantastic job again, bringing me into a good position inside the last 500m. It's great to have a wheel like that, someone that you can trust to get you to the front."
Having been dropped off near the front of the peloton in the final kilometre, Bennett was briefly boxed in before beginning his kick for the line.
"Greipel started the sprint and I think I was two places back. I felt strong enough to go before the 200m mark but there was a guy in the way and the opportunity didn't come until around 150m to go.
"I think I was gaining in the end but it was never going to be possible to make that ground up on Greipel."
Bennett won a stage of the Tour of Britain last year, earning himself a contract with the German NetApp Endura team in January and is relishing his future battles with the world's best sprinters.
"I maybe need to get a little bit stronger to make sure I'm in the right position but I'm happy enough with the way things are going," he said.
"The team have been great, and hopefully we'll improve as the year goes on."
The Tour of Oman was won outright for the second year in a row by Sky's Chris Froome, with Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) second.
Froome said: "I still feel like I've got a lot of work to do but at this stage in the season, I'm where I need to be. This has been a really good experience for me as it's the start of my build-up to the Tour de France."
Meanwhile, Damien Shaw and Bryan McCrystal gave Cork-based Team Aqua Blue twin wins on the domestic scene yesterday, with Shaw sealing victory in the Lacey Cup in Tralee and McCrystal landing the Trader's Cup in Dundalk. Paddy Clarke of the new Liquidworx/Fitscience team won the Loughrea Grand Prix.