Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) made it over the climb 30km from the finish and sprinted to an unexpected stage 5 win at the Tour of Turkey on Saturday, the Irishman's fourth stage win in five tries, with another opportunity on tap Sunday in Istanbul.
After his opening-day win on Tuesday, Bennett said he thought there would be two more opportunities for the sprinters over the following five days. The 26-year-old obviously underestimated his chances. The Bora-Hansgrohe sprinter went on to win stages 2 and 3, ceding Friday's stage 4 win and the overall lead to Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) on the final climb to Selcuk.
Bennett struck back on stage 5, however, clearing the day's major hurdle with 30km to go and setting himself up for a run at win number four in Turkey and 10 on the season so far.
"Yesterday was so hard on every climb that I didn't think I'd get over any of the climbs today," Bennett said. "Yesterday I didn't have to go the podium and do everything, so I had time for 10 hours sleep and I recovered as much as a I could. I had really bad legs yesterday. Today, they weren't super but they weren't as bad as yesterday."
A group of seven riders went away early in Saturday's 180km fifth stage, including Bennett's teammate Shane Archbold, Turkey's Onur Balkan and Muhammed Atalay, Wilier-Trestina's Alex Turrin, WB Veranclassic-AquaProtect's Jimmy Duquesnoy and Lukas Spengler, and Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec's Matteo Spreafico. With Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates vigilant on the front of the peloton, the escapees never gained more than two minutes, and the group came apart on the first climb of the day.
Bennett lost teammates Leopold König and Michael Schwarzmann to a crash, and so had limited numbers for the finale. Nevertheless, his first focus had to be making it to the finish in the main bunch with the hardest climb of the day still to come.
"I got over the first climb and made the split, and I was OK, but then I had an acute case of crosswind paranoia," he said. "I heard Leo crashed but I didn't know Schwarzy did too. I hope they're OK. I still haven't seen them. Leo helped me on the first climb, and the lads were a great help on the final climb too. The beginning of the last climb wasn't so steep; it went up in steps. The surface made a big difference. It was good, while on the first climb, the surface was completely dead."
Attacks flew on the final climb trying to dislodge Ulissi, who was able to counter all the moves, but the high pace reduced the bunch to about 30 riders over the top, and Bennett came back to the peloton with another group of 20 riders that made contact with about 8km to go. Despite lacking teammates for the finale, Bennett found his way to the front of the bunch, where Trek was working to set up Edward Theuns.
"Then I looked down and suddenly there were 4km to go," Bennett said. "I decided to really fight. It was 50-50 whether I went for the stage or saved energy for tomorrow. I saw Theuns was struggling – well, not struggling, but fighting also – and that was good for the morale. Trek had a lot of guys, I was a bit frightened, but then [Bora-Hansgrohe teammate] Silvio Herklotz came over.
"In the end, the sprint was aggressive," Bennett said. "Trek went on the left, I was on the right, I was clipping the legs of the barriers and nearly went down. I managed to get through. Then, in the final I didn't realise we were there. The last 500m went so quick and I didn't see the 200m to go, I only saw the 100m to go. The moment passed for Theuns to get out. He was blocked behind his lead-out man who should have forced me wider. In the end, when I put down the power, it was still the same, so I think for future reference I should have more self belief and just go at the right moment."
Bennett will likely get another chance to try out his new 'self-belief' on Sunday when the six-day race concludes with a 143.7km stage in Instanbul. The course is mostly flat with a slight rise just before the finish.
"Yeah, I can't be greedy, but I do want to win again, and if I could do that, I'd be delighted," he said. "I'm a little bit disappointed that my legs weren't better yesterday, because I'd love to still be in it. Maybe I could have got some more points in the general classification. I don't know when I'll get the opoprutnity to do that again in the WorldTour GC."