Bennett: My legs were dead but the faster we went the better I felt
Sam Bennett took an historic third stage victory at the Giro d'Italia yesterday when he out-sprinted points winner Elia Viviani in Rome at the end of a glorious three-week Grand Tour for the Carrick-on-Suir sprinter.
Not since 1987, when Stephen Roche won the Giro on his way to claiming cycling's Triple Crown, has an Irishman won three stages of any Grand Tour and while one of Roche's victories was in a team time trial that year, all of Bennett's have come in fast bunch-sprint finishes.
It's been a long way from Tipperary to Grand Tour stage wins for Bennett though, as illness and crashes forced him to hobble through his Tour de France debut in 2016 and his Giro debut last year, even if he did show he had what it takes with three podium places in Italy last year despite feeling well below-par.
This time around a healthy and fit Bennett took victory on stages seven and 12 and also took second twice and third place on three occasions over the course of the three-week race, but after three tough days in the mountains, he wasn't sure how he would fare yesterday.
"I think I went too deep in the first week and a little bit in the second week," said the 27-year-old sprinter yesterday.
"I paid for it the last few days and was suffering so much. Today I woke up and I was so tired I thought I wouldn't even be able to sprint. When we got on the circuit I felt terrible on the cobbles. My legs were dead. But the faster we went, the better I felt."
Once again his Bora-Hansgrohe team were instrumental in setting Bennett up in the finale, reeling in a late breakaway group which included Irish road race champion Ryan Mullen of Trek Segafredo, riding his first Grand Tour.
"The guys did an amazing job today," said Bennett. "I can't thank them enough. The way they rode when that break went on the final lap... they went eyeballs out. They were amazing. I definitely wouldn't have got that win without them."
After a ding-dong battle with points competition leader Elia Viviani and his Quick-Step team on every flat stage, Bennett was bitterly disappointed to finish second to the Italian in a rain-soaked stage 17 last Thursday after being boxed in before the sprint, but made no such mistake yesterday perching himself perfectly on the Italian's wheel in the final kilometre and only pouncing for victory with 50m to go.
"Everything seems to flow for him," said the Irish sprinter, admitting the Italian deserved to be crowned points winner this year.
"I don't know if it's from racing on the track, or the amount of wins he's had, but his decision making is unreal."