Strong riding in the technical, twisting finale on the seventh stage of the Giro d'Italia saw Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) firmly at the head of affairs, but in the three-way battle with Fernando Gaviria (Quick Step Floors) and Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) the Irish sprinter had to settle for third as Ewan took the win.
A brief but intense discussion ensued between the Bora-Hansgrohe riders as they mustered a few hundred yards after the finish line before heading to the team bus. But whilst the sprint battle had been undoubtably a rough one, Bennett was adamant it had been a fair fight in Alberobello.
As the Carrick-on-Suir man pointed out, too, the finish had been anything but straightforward to tackle. The road in the final kilometre was essentially a narrow, gently rising corridor, snaking left and right through the streets of Alberobello to the point where riders could easily get blocked in. At one point, double stage winner Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) tried to find a gap on the left hand side, but as the road curved, the gap Gaviria was going for shrank into nothing.
"It was a hectic, very sketchy, there was a lot of shouldering," Bennett said. "We did nothing wrong ... the other guys are the ones with the problem."
Bennett finally clinched third, which he described as "close but no cigar."
"The guys did an amazing job for me, I wish I could have got the win for them. I just couldn't get around him [Ewan] in the last moment. It was difficult but the guys are really doing a fantastic job. They're riding beyond their years, it's as if they have so much experience even though we're a pretty young crew here."
After his difficult start with a bout of illness in Sardinia, Bennett showed he was heading back in the right direction as he suffered badly but came through for third in Messina. But as Bennett insisted, his teammates are helping make a huge difference as well.
"They're making the gaps and it's easy for me to follow, we're rotating within our own train, we're working really well here," he said. But the 26-year-old's next chance for a bunch sprint will now be well into next week, on stage 12 next Thursday to Reggio Emilia.