Wednesday 22 November 2017

Sam Bennett: 'I was doing 90kph when a gust of wind almost took my front wheel'

Giro D'Italia Diary

Riders pass Mount Errigal during Stage 5 of the Rás from Buncrana to Dungloe in Co Donegal. Photo: INPHO
Riders pass Mount Errigal during Stage 5 of the Rás from Buncrana to Dungloe in Co Donegal. Photo: INPHO

Sam Bennett

Thursday May 25, Stage 18: Moena to Ortisei (137km)

With 21 stages on this Giro, I hadn't really looked at all of them in detail before the start.

Okay, I studied the flat stages that were suited to a bunch sprint as much as I could. I watched videos of the final kilometres, checked the weather forecast the night before to see what way the wind was expected to blow, planned and plotted our lead out for the last few kilometres and was very well prepared.

However, as a sprinter, big mountain stages are not my thing and before the race started I made a conscious decision not to look at the toughest final week.

In the first week when I was sick, if I'd known what was lying ahead it would have cracked me and I mightn't have got this far.

Taking the approach that sometimes you're better off not knowing what's ahead until the last minute though, my morning ritual for the past few days has consisted of me opening the road book to whatever stage we're on, having a look at the route profile and then disbelievingly whispering the words 'What the f***? to myself.

Beginning and ending with two first category mountains and with two second-categories and one third-category climb in between for good measure, there wasn't one bit of flat road on today's 18th stage.

Regretted

The start today saw the peloton stretch out into one long line and I instantly regretted not having done a warm up before the stage while alongside me Philip Deignan was pretty chirpy after two and a half weeks of racing.

I don't think Irish people understand how good Philip is. The Letterkenny man is one of the best climbers in the world and I think if he was let loose he'd do some serious damage in this race.

By the time we got into the first climb, after about 14km or so, the bus load of coffee I'd drunk for breakfast had kicked in and although I was dropped on the ascent, I made my way across the top in a group of about 30 riders.

We took the 20km descent that followed pretty hard and it was pretty uncomfortable at times, especially when I could hear bits of gravel pinging off my tyres on the corners.

Up ahead, I could see another big group so I picked a point on the road and tried to count until we reached it, so I knew how far off we were.

We pushed hard to catch them as we approached the Passo Valparola after about 50km and as the experienced Italian Pippo Pozzato was in there, we let him set the tempo on the climb.

At one point on the descent we were doing 90kph and a gust of wind almost whipped my front wheel out from under me as we mopped up more riders dropped from the peloton.

On the climbs today, some guys wanted to push on, some guys wanted to ease up, so there was a bit of shouting going on.

When Pozzato increased the pressure at the bottom of the penultimate Passo Gardena after 80km though, nobody was having any of it so finding himself off the front in no man's land, he dropped back to us and we rode steadily to the summit.

Having watched the leaders pass by 20 minutes earlier, some spectators then tried to ride in our group on the long descent that followed.

It was really dangerous, especially when we caught some of them on the apex of a corner and they tried to hop in with us. I've never seen it happen anywhere else. Some of the guys in the group resorted to soaking them with water bottles to get them out of the way.

The shorter stage meant we were all worried that a faster finishing time for the leaders would mean a shorter time limit for the back-markers. We were 27 minutes behind as we tackled the ascent to the summit finish.

A few minutes later, we realised there'd been a gruppetto behind us all day when they regained contact with us and by the time we got to the finish our group had swelled to around 125 riders.

With three days left on this Giro, it's getting harder and harder to eat. I'm sick of all the sweet stuff on the bike and after the stages I'm finding it hard to swallow more food, even though I know I have to force it down to recover. Everybody's wrecked now.

Apart from points leader Fernando Gaviria I'm the only sprinter left in the race now but I want to finish this Giro to help me develop, increase my stamina, my resistance and even mental fortitude for the future and though it's been hard, the past few days the support I've been getting from Ireland has been amazing.

I'm probably a terrible son for not phoning my parents over the last three weeks but, Mam and Dad, the daily messages mean a lot to me and I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for your total support over the years. Actually, hang on, this is probably all your fault!

  • Giro d'Italia, Live Eurosport, 12.0

Irish Independent

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