'If some riders didn't know Sam Bennett, they certainly do now!'
Giro D'Italia Diary
Thursday, May 16, Stage 12
Osimo to Imola (214km)
Last night we stayed in the very scenic town of Loreto, home of the huge Basilica of the Holy House of Mary.
When my Italian soigneur told me the history behind the Basilica last night, I knew I recognised the name but it's only now that it dawns on me that I may have spent some of my youth admiring the girls from the local Loreto convent as a teenager in Ireland.
Another very long 214km stage was added to this morning by a 3km uphill ride through yesterday's finish town from the team buses to the start line and then a 6km neutralised section.
Greeted by warm sunshine for the early kilometres the peloton was happy to let a five-man group containing representatives from all of the smaller Italian teams go clear after 4km and I found myself alongside my old Ag2r team-mate Mikael Cherel for the first hour.
I haven't seen Mikael for a while and we spent an hour talking about everything and nothing.
It was like catching up with a mate at a bar, except the bar had a tailwind and was moving at 45kmh.
The bunch kept the five escapees on a retractable leash of around three minutes for much of the stage. After maybe 120km it started to rain and I went back to the team car for my rain jacket.
Having stuck my cape in my back pocket afterwards, a sudden torrential rain storm with around 40km to go saw me drift down the back of the bunch again to put it back.
Unfortunately this coincided with an unexpected split in the bunch and I was left in the back portion with a lot of the GC guys, including Miguel Angel Lopez, Richard Carapaz and Domenico Pozzovivo.
With the team radios nowadays, news travels fast and once the other teams heard those guys were out the back, they put the hammer down and with the rain coming down in buckets it took us a while to close the gap.
My mistake then was to stay at the back and as we hit the drag on to the motor racing circuit with 20km to go, only half of our group made it across and I was stuck in the back, a bit pissed off with myself.
I didn't expect anything to happen, so today was more to do with not being switched on rather than having bad legs.
As I rode to the finish in a big group alongside Ryan Mullen, our main topic of conversation was how well Sam Bennett is going at the moment.
I didn't realise he had won his second stage here until I got to the team bus 10 minutes after he crossed the line.
I have to admit that the way he won was pretty cool to watch.
As I looked at the replay on the big screen, Jurgen Roelandts, who was fifth on the stage, remarked how good Sam was tactically.
The last time Sam won was a full-on bunch sprint but today Jurgen said he just timed it perfectly, catching them all out with an early attack from about 450m out.
When Sam looked back and realised he had a gap he even had time to sit up and take it all in.
To be able to that in the Giro, on a really tough stage, is fantastic for him.
At the start of this Giro, Sam dreamt of winning a stage.
Now he has two stage wins here and is living the dream.
But Sam has always been there or thereabouts and he probably would have done it a couple of years ago if he hadn't been sick on debuts at the Tour and the Giro. He was also third twice in the first week here and third again in one of the hardest races I've ever ridden the other day.
He's won 22 other pro races but now he's won two stages at the Giro and is full-on in the spotlight.
If some riders didn't know who he was, they certainly do now.
Sam comes from Carrick-on-Suir, the same town that produced Ireland's last great sprinter Sean Kelly and like Kelly, the peloton really consider him one of the top sprinters in the world.
Over the past few years Ireland has had a few climbers and now we have Ryan in the time trials and Sam in the sprints and it's great for Irish fans to have someone to cheer for in those fast finishes.
Sam's win brings him to within 22 points of the 'ciclamino' points jersey and wouldn't it be fantastic if he could be wearing that in Rome at the end of next week?