Sunday 18 March 2018

Sam Bennett: 'Afraid my legs would erupt, I eased up on the volcano'

Tuesday, May 9 - Stage 4: Cifala to Mount Etna (180km)

Riders climb towards the volcano of Mount Etna during yesterday’s Giro d’Italia stage from Cefalu to Etna in Sicily. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Riders climb towards the volcano of Mount Etna during yesterday’s Giro d’Italia stage from Cefalu to Etna in Sicily. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Sam Bennett - Giro d'Italia Diary

With an hour and a half transfer to the stage start this morning, I spent some of that time perusing social media on the team bus and was a bit shocked to see Tour de France winner Chris Froome tweet that he'd been knocked down by a car while training this morning.

These stories are getting all too familiar lately and although I'm in a different country and maybe haven't got the full story yet, the irate driver apparently followed Froome up onto the footpath to ram him and he was lucky to escape serious injury.

In my mind, if somebody tries to hit a cyclist with a car then it really is attempted murder.

You're using a vehicle to deliberately try and harm somebody and a guy on a bike up against somebody sitting in a metal shell is never going to come out of it well.

While this seems to be a clear-cut case of road rage, sharing the road goes both ways. Over the years I've seen plenty of cyclists who are a danger to themselves when they're out. Maybe I shouldn't be saying this but some cyclists need to start respecting motorists more.

I know there are more good guys out there than bad but I see a lot of stupid stuff when I'm on the bike.

A couple of my pet hates are guys running red lights and jumping through roundabouts, intersections or across roads to turn right.

None of this is a good idea. What's a minute or two standing at a junction if it means you don't get crushed by a lump of metal flying at you at 80kph? At the end of the day we're all trying to stay alive here.

Just because it says you can ride two abreast, it doesn't mean it's always safe to do so either.

Why have a line of cars behind your group just because the law says you 'have the right' to ride two abreast?

In my head, part of my job is to help change the mentality of drivers towards cyclists.

I try to be polite, give them room and, if there's no traffic coming, I wave them past. Okay you can't always ride in the gutter because of holes, ruts or obstacles but we can all try and meet drivers halfway.

You can do all that and still get hit by a car though. I know because it happened me and I can tell you it's not nice. I'd just turned 19 and was at the end of my last endurance spin ahead of joining the Cycling Ireland track team for a race, when an oncoming car came onto my side of the road and hit me head-on.

I woke up a few hours later in Waterford hospital.

Message Set to turn pro the following summer, that crash took away my pro contract for the following year and the injuries I collected in the smash set me back a further four years.

In fairness, most drivers are as much afraid of hitting a cyclist as we are of being hit, so my message is that we need to look out for each other whenever we can.

Whilst holidaying in this area of Italy with my girlfriend Tara a few years ago, I drove to the top of Mount Etna, so I had some idea of the torture that lay ahead of me on the way to today's summit finish. As a sprinter, I wasn't concerned with losing time on the stage.

I can't climb well enough to be up there in the hunt for overall victory so, for me, these days are all about getting to the finish inside the time limit and as fresh as possible, so that I can be ready when the next sprint stage comes.

With the 30km long Femmina Morta climb coming after just 50km, and unsure how well I'd recovered from my stomach bug, I was afraid that I might get dropped very early today so I sat a bit closer to the front of the peloton on the climb.

I was surprised to find myself fairly comfortable on the ride skywards but wasn't sure whether I was getting my legs back or the peloton were taking it easy.

The only time I really got it hard was about 35km to go when I got a front wheel puncture on a downhill and had to chase to get back on just as the pace had gone through the roof with Mount Etna loomed. I could have stayed in the peloton longer after regaining contact but I didn't want to my legs to erupt on the volcano so as soon as the grupetto - a big group of non-climbers - formed on the lower slopes, I eased up to ride home with them.

Knowing that we had to finish within a percentage of the winner's time today, we figured we had 50 minutes to get to the finish after the stage winner, Jan Polanc, if we wanted to stay in the race. When I found out we were 15 minutes down with 3km to go, I knew I had some sliding room and tried to save myself a bit on the way to the top which is just as well, because I faded in those last kilometres, losing 28 minutes.

Today was hard but I'm going in the right direction.

Tomorrow's finish could end in a bunch sprint, so hopefully I'll get the chance to do my thing there.

Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport 1, 12.0

Irish Independent

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