Sam Bennett: 'Richeze told Rudi he'd make him crash the next time if necessary'
Friday May 19, Stage 13: Reggio Emilia to Tortoni (67kms)
After finishing third for the third time on this Giro yesterday, I spent most of the evening in what can only be described as a sulk, mulling the final sprint over and over in my head.
I wasn't screaming or shouting or anything, in fact I was the total opposite, but looking back now, I was dragging down the mood of the whole team at dinner, which was really immature of me, and the guys didn't deserve that.
Sometimes I don't know how they put up with me.
The only good thing about it was that I was so emotionally drained afterwards that I fell asleep pretty quickly last night.
I was like a briar again this morning, but with another bunch sprint on the cards today, at least I had another chance to redeem myself.
The support I've got from my Bora Hansgrohe team-mates and staff here has been amazing and on the road today, even guys from other teams came up to me and gave me little pep talks during the stage.
Cannondale's Alex Howes told me to 'Smash it today dude!' in his thick American accent as he rode past, while even Caleb Ewan of Orica encouraged me - and he was going to be sprinting against me!
With the breakaways caught and the sprint looming, my team-mates and I were ready to go in the last 10km today but having dominated the last few sprint finales only to come away without a win, we tried a different tactic and hung back a little before pushing to the front in the last 4km.
Despite the guys having done a great job to protect me all day and keep my morale up, a strong crosswind in the final kilometres meant I was almost on my limit with 650m to go when my room-mate Lukas Postlberger jumped clear on a little hump-backed bridge in an effort to replicate his Stage 1-winning move, which was part of our plan today.
As the Quickstep team have brought their sprinter Fernando Gaviria from behind us in every sprint so far, we wanted to make them chase Lukas so that we could try go from behind Gaviria today, but Lukas was closed down pretty quickly and I rounded the last corner with 450m to go in around fifth place, with Gaviria's lead-out man Max Richeze on my outside.
With 300m to go, I was in a perfect position: third in line behind Gregor and my last lead-out man Rudi Selig.
With his sprint done, Gregor Muhlberger pulled over to the left 50m later to let Rudi launch me from his wheel but as soon as he did Richeze came up alongside him and drove a shoulder into him to try and block my path to the line.
It's the third time in a row Richeze has hit Rudi in a sprint at this Giro now, and he's tried it on with me a few times too.
The other day he bounced off Rudi three times in the last kilometre, and when Rudi confronted him afterwards, Richeze told him he'd make him crash the next time if necessary.
I don't know what his problem is with us but it's like his ambition is to ruin everyone else's sprint and not concentrate on giving his own man a lead-out.
Today, Gaviria wasn't even on his wheel, was nowhere near him.
All he's been doing all week is trying to get in the way of my lead-out man instead of doing a proper job for his own sprinter.
With Richeze leaning on Rudi at over 65kph, I was half-expecting them to fall in front of me but Rudi held himself up and gave me room to sprint with 200m to go as, behind me, Richeze rammed Ewan out of the way, pulling his own foot out of his pedal with the impact and almost causing a pile-up, to let Gaviria come up along the barriers.
With a strong wind in the finish when I opened up, the other guys who started their sprint at the same time couldn't come around me and for probably 190 of those metres I was out front, until Gaviria appeared from nowhere and in a 71kph gallop for glory threw his bike past mine on the line to take his fourth stage win of this Giro.
When I started my sprint I could have gone right, drifted towards the barriers and closed the door on him, but I'd rather win by being the fastest.
A few days ago I said that second place would at least be a step up but today was almost perfect; second was never going to be good enough.
For the effort the guys have put in for me since this Giro started, they deserved that win today. But I just couldn't make it happen.
For some reason I was more disappointed yesterday.
That's sport. That's life and you have to able to deal with that, take the positives out of it and go again.
Two years ago I rode my first Tour de France and got as far as Day 17. Last year I crashed on the opening stage and after an operation on my hand during the race, I suffered every single day to barely survive and finish last overall in Paris three weeks later.
Now I've had three third places and a second on sprint stages of this Giro d'Italia, which is a big step up.
I perhaps haven't always come across as the most positive or confident person in the world this week but the flip side of that is that I wouldn't be upset if I didn't think I could do it. It's been hard to come so close to a stage win four times now but if I ever do pull off a Grand Tour stage win, then that victory will be all the sweeter for that.
With the last flat day on this Giro over, most of the sprinters are going home tonight but for me, slogging it out in the mountains for another week will hopefully build my resistance and make me stronger in the future.
It's going to be really hard, but I want to pay back the guys and it's time to start hurting for them now.
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