Wednesday 13 December 2017

Sam Bennett: 'I'm stuck in a rut and I don't know how to break out of it'

Giro d'Italia Diary - Thursday, May 18 - Stage 12: Forli to Reggio Emilia (229km)

Colombian Fernando Gaviria from QuickStep-Floors crosses the finish line to win the 12th stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia in Reggio Emilia. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Colombian Fernando Gaviria from QuickStep-Floors crosses the finish line to win the 12th stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia in Reggio Emilia. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Sam Bennett

Apart from the rest day, where I was mentally switched off, today was the first day I woke up with tired legs after yesterday's hard mountain stage.

After a cup of coffee and a decent breakfast though I was feeling a bit better and with a sprint finish anticipated at the end of the stage, I went to the line hopeful that today could be my day.

When three riders attacked early on, the sprinters' teams let them go, satisfied that they'd be able to reel them in before the day's end.

The peloton settled into a rhythm with the three leaders opening a lead of six minutes in the opening half of the Giro's longest stage.

With various sprint teams putting riders on the front of the peloton after about 100km, my Portuguese team-mate Jose Mendes volunteered to go up and help them.

Usually when your team is contributing to the chase, everyone lets you into the line and it's easier to get shelter, but that didn't happen to us today for some reason. Other teams were coming up and pushing in on us even though they had nobody riding on the front.

I found that really annoying and pretty disrespectful, but hopefully it was only because Jose is wearing the Portuguese champion's jersey here and they didn't realise he was a Bora Hansgrohe rider.

In the last 30km or so, my team took up position on the left-hand side of the road, just a little off the front of the peloton.

With Rudi acting as road captain for the finale, all I had to do was follow his wheel as we all moved closer to the front in the final 10km.

Knowing there was a roundabout coming 6.5km from the finish, Cesare led us off the big main road and the last of the day's escapees was caught.

Two Movistar riders came up and hit the front with 5.5km to go on a chicane but with Jan, Gregor, Patrick, Lukas and Rudi still in front of me, I was well placed and went under the 4km to go banner in eighth position.

A few teams tried to come over the top of us in the last 3km but the guys were very strong and held them all off.

With everyone else having done their turn, I rounded the last left hander with 350 metres to go with just Rudi in front of me, primed and ready to launch my sprint for stage victory.

Just milliseconds before I started my sprint, however, Richeze of Quickstep started sprinting on the left with double stage winner Fernando Gaviria on his wheel.

If I was more aware - or even took a glance to the left - I could have darted into their slipstream.

I could have come off that, could have possibly even passed Gaviria by the line, but with the pressure of the whole peloton breathing down my neck, I just froze for a split second and for some reason went around Rudi to the right and out into the wind.

With Gaviria taking his third stage win of this Giro and Jakub Marezcko of Wilier, who had no lead-out, coming off his slipstream for second, I took third place on the stage, for the third time on this Giro.

What's frustrating here is that the guys are doing such a perfect job for me that all of the other teams are now using us as their point of reference, their lead-out.

My team-mates have been absolutely amazing on this Giro and them keeping me at the very front of the peloton ahead of the sprint gives me the luxury of not having to fight for a wheel.

I've never had a lead-out train like this before.

Maybe because of that though, I'm finding it so much harder to be the one who starts the sprint.

When Rudi goes with 500 metres to go, you still have wind in your face, you're not fully sheltered and then you have to start your own sprint at 200 metres to go and it's very different to coming off the wheels where it often takes less power.

In fairness to Gaviria, it's easy for me to say that. He's won three stages now and nobody handed them to him.

It's only been half a wheel or less between me and victory and, while I know everyone here is beatable, in my head I'm stuck in a rut and I don't know how to break out of it. It's so frustrating.

People say your first win is always the hardest but I never really understood that until now.

I've won at continental level, pro-continental level, even World Tour level but a Grand Tour stage win is just that little step up again.

At this level even the slightest mistakes are highlighted and unfortunately it's me that's making them.

Third on a stage of the Giro is a good result but, in my eyes, nobody wants a sprinter that can't win.

At Bora Hansgrohe, I've been given that responsibility, given that trust and while it's a lot of pressure to have, I have to be able to pull that off. I have to be able to do it.

With only one flat stage left, not getting a result today increases that pressure tenfold, even if it's only coming from myself.

I have to take that pressure and deal with it. Dealing with that and going back and trying it again was fine the first two times.

To do it a third time and go back tomorrow and be able to say, 'Yeah give me it again and I can do it', that's going to be hardest thing.

Maybe later, I'll be able to switch off and relax but I reckon I've a long restless night ahead of me.

Giro d'Italia, Live, Eurosport 1, 12.0

Irish Independent

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