Sam Bennett: 'For a fleeting moment, I thought I had stage glory'
Wednesday, May 10 - Stage 5: Pedara to Messina (159km)
After surviving yesterday's gruelling mountain stage, I knew my legs were coming around a bit after being sick for the first three days of this Giro.
Whether they would come around enough to allow me contest what we hoped would be a big bunch finish today was the big question as we rolled out from the start this morning.
I have to say early indications weren't great, as my legs felt terrible as we took in some pretty rattly and hilly roads on the opening half of the stage.
But my Bora Hansgrohe team-mates rallied around me all day, sheltering me from the wind, keeping me fed and watered and giving me little pep talks along the way, all of which was greatly appreciated.
With the early escapees caught before we entered the 6km finishing circuit in Messina, we decided to try and be at the front of the peloton going onto the circuit. At the front you're more likely to carry your speed around the corners whereas if you're stuck a few places back you have to brake and then sprint hard to try and close the gap to the wheel in front of you.
With a big U-turn on a roundabout coming with 1.2km to go today, positioning was everything.
In the last kilometres it's very hard to communicate with each other because of the noise of the crowd.
Our team radios are under the collar of our jerseys but you can't put your head down to speak into it at 60kph in a finale or you'll run into somebody so I was shouting every couple of minutes to let my team-mates know I was still in line behind them as they tried to hold their position in front.
I also shout directions to let them know to make room for me, or tell them whether they're going too fast or too slow.
"MOVE UP! WAIT! GO!"
From 1.5km to 1.3km to go felt really long today because I wasn't comfortable at all. On the roundabout, with 1.2km to go, I lost Rudi's wheel when my handlebars got hooked on the guy on my inside as we leaned into the sweeping U-turn at 55kph. As my bars were higher than his, they caught underneath and I had to shoulder him to get them off.
In order to keep my speed up, I tried to pedal around the curve but could feel my shoe brushing off the tarmac, and with my arse on the tip of my saddle and all my weight on the front of the bike, my back wheel started to skip.
Trying to keep my wheel on the ground, accelerate and overtake the guy in front of me, I used up a bit of energy to get back up to ninth in line behind Rudi and Lukas.
Suddenly, we had just 600m to go, and with the other lead-out men pulling off the front, Quickstep came up the outside with their sprinter and former pink jersey Fernando Gaviria in tow.
One of them went straight to the front, while Max Richeze jumped in on Rudi's wheel in third place. I used another bit of energy trying to go around him, with the Brazilian sticking an elbow in my arse just to let me know he was there and make it that bit harder for me. To be honest, though, I didn't even notice it until I watched the replay. It's all part of the game and didn't bother me. With Rudi now opening up his lead-out on the front, a headwind in the finishing straight meant I knew I had to time my sprint perfectly to have any chance of winning the stage.
At 400m to go, I could hear the wind rushing in my ears and the clicking of gears behind me as the other sprinters got ready to pounce. I wanted to go but tried to keep cool and hold myself back.
Ideally, I wanted to start my gallop 150m from the line but with 200m to go Richeze coming up on my right-hand side forced me to start my sprint for glory.
For a fleeting moment I thought I had it, but then Gaviria, benefiting from an armchair ride from yours truly, popped off my wheel and stole my thunder.
I don't know who the hell the other guy was who rubbed salt into my wounds by beating me for second but I think because the headwind was so strong he came out of the slipstream late and just pipped me by a tyre's width on the line.
According to the data collected today, my top speed in the sprint was 68.1kph, with a maximum power output of 1,352 watts. Normally I could do 200 more but I just didn't have the top-end power today.
Still, stage winner Gaviria's top speed was lower at 66.7kph and he only had a max power output of 1,339 watts, which gives me confidence that I'm coming around and just went a little too early today.
To have so much support from the team gives me great confidence and I really appreciate the job they did for me today. They were awesome and not just in the finale, where they led me out perfectly.
I'm really disappointed now not to have been able to finish it off. It's frustrating to see them put so much into today, get everything right and for me not to have the legs in the last 25 metres.
Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport 1, 12.0