Tuesday 24 October 2017

Sam Bennett: I got dropped after 12km of racing. There were still 207km to go

Giro d'Italia Diary - Wednesday, May 24, Stage 17: Tirano to Canazei (219km)

The peloton rides in Aprica during the 17th stage of the 100th Giro d'Italia, from Tirano to Canazei. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The peloton rides in Aprica during the 17th stage of the 100th Giro d'Italia, from Tirano to Canazei. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Sam Bennett

Having woken up this morning with the pain from yesterday's mountains still in my legs, I knew today was going to be hard.

Apart from tired legs, there have been plenty of other indications that fatigue is beginning to set in. The other day I came away from the coffee machine with coffee beans in my mug instead of coffee, and this morning, I walked into the mechanics' truck, where they keep the bikes, for breakfast instead of the kitchen truck.

It's not just me, though. Breakfast is getting a bit like an audition for The Walking Dead. Nobody bothers turning on the music anymore and everyone has what's known in Ireland as 'the Rás stare' - a vacant look that I'm sure participants in this week's Ras know all too well by now.

To try to get ready for a hard start this morning, we set up the home trainers outside the bus and warmed up. I didn't feel too bad once I got my legs rolling - at endurance pace anyway. Accelerations were a different story.

When two guys jumped up the road from the gun, there wasn't much reaction from the peloton and I thought 'Lovely, they're going to take it nice and easy for a while' but at the bottom of the first climb, 3km later, the pace went through the roof.


I got to within 3km of the top but still not recovered from yesterday I just couldn't hold the wheels and got dropped after 12km of racing. There were 207km left.

Unfortunately, I've been in that situation before and by now I've learned that the worst thing you can do is panic and fight it.

I really wanted to stay in the peloton because it makes the descent so much easier but I didn't want to blow up trying.

There had been a dozen or so other riders dropped before me so I pulled over and rode to the top at my own tempo and they caught me before the summit.

We worked together on the descent but the problem we had was that while the second-category Passo de Tonale, which came after 50km, was technically only 10km long, we had 20km of uncategorised climbing to get to the bottom of it.

For maybe 10km we weren't far off closing the gap but some of the guys began jumping around in panic trying to regain contact, and after yesterday the accelerations were killing me.

My team car was giving me information in my earpiece when my Austrian team-mate Gregor Mulhberger came over the airwaves.

"I go back!" he said in his best 'Arnie' accent and sat up and waited for my group. I was a bit worried about him doing it. I didn't want Gregor to waste energy on me in case he paid for it later, but it worked out okay. Just as we regained contact, a big breakaway group went up the road and the pace eased, so I was happy out.

At the top of the second climb we had 15km of proper descending and then maybe another 30km of downhill so it wasn't too bad sheltering in the wheels, and the kilometres went by pretty fast.

My team-mates Jan Barta and Jose Mendes were in the 40-man break and even though they got 17 minutes at one point they never stopped attacking each other all day, so they had a really hard day.

With their lead increasing, I wondered if race leader Tom Dumoulin's Sunweb team were trying to lose the jersey to take the pressure off for the next few days, but the other teams called his bluff and let the gap go out until Quickstep went up and rode with them with maybe 50km left and they clawed some time back.

I stayed in the peloton until 15km from the finish where my directeur sportif worked out the time limit for today. Knowing I had 38 minutes to get to the finish, I sat up with a few others and we just rode at recovery pace in an effort to conserve as much as possible for tomorrow.

Again, I ate as much as possible today yet with 5km to go I got the bonk. Like a marathon runner hitting the wall, it came on so quickly it was like somebody switching the lights off. I had nothing left in my legs and nothing left in my pockets, and although I wouldn't have broken a set of glass cranks for the previous 10km, I was so out of it when I crossed the line I had to be pushed to the bus by the soigneur.

Without even changing out of my race gear, I went straight for the food, wolfing down a bowl of pasta and some rice.

Having saved everything to get through yesterday's Queen Stage, I'm now beginning to realise the next three stages are going to be just as bad.

Tomorrow is only 130km but with the same amount of climbing crammed into the stage as yesterday, it's a bigger problem for us non-climbers. A shorter distance means more attacking, a faster stage and a smaller time limit.

One of the Bahrain Merida guys told me mid-stage that he was saving himself today because there was going to be war between the GC guys tomorrow.

I tried to smile and look pleased, but inside I was crying.

Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport, 12.0

Irish Independent

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