Sam Bennett (NetApp-Endura) still wasn't sure exactly where he had finished when his soigneur handed him a bidon at the end of Scheldeprijs but he knew what his performance in the bunch sprint symbolised. After 12th place at Gent-Wevelgem last week, the Irishman’s 5th place finish in Schoten was another step in the right direction.
A sprinter always wants to win – and Bennett already has this season, landing the Clasica Almeria last month – but rubbing shoulders with the likes of Marcel Kittel, Tyler Farrar and Alessandro Petacchi at the business end of a semi-classic is not something within the capabilities of every neo-professional.
"I'm happy enough," Bennett told Cyclingnews after thanking his teammates Jan Barta and Ralf Matzka. "The consistency is coming so eventually it will have to go my way."
As ever at Scheldeprijs, the final lap of the finishing circuit was a frenetic one, and the organisation of the Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Giant-Shimano lead-out trains ensured that the bunch was strung out in one long line in the closing kilometres. That meant that, for once, the finale was not marred by crashes, but it also left those caught behind with a lot of ground to make up just to contest the sprint. As he showed at the Tour of Qatar in February, Bennett is well able to navigate alone through a chaotic peloton, but moving up at Scheldeprijs was very much a collective effort.
"It was a bit hectic, but the guys did a great job in the last couple of kilometres to get me up," Bennett explained. "We got blocked and they still did a massive effort coming into the finishing straight and got me back up. It was a really hard finish and I just didn't have the power at the end to get on the podium."
Bennett was several positions behind the winner Kittel and second-placed Farrar when he began his sprint, but he acknowledged that he would not have had the legs to match them even if he had been a little nearer the front entering the final kilometre.
"No, there was nothing really to gain if I’d got a clear run," he said. "I just tried to get as far up as possible but it was just so hectic that I couldn't. The team did a great job getting me up there because we were well back – with two kilometres to go, we were way too far back, but the boys did a big effort and got me back up there."
Next on Bennett’s diary is a debut at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. As a native of Carrick-on-Suir and an alumnus of Sean Kelly's An Post team, it would be understandable if he had a particular affinity with the race, although his one ride in the under-23 version came when he raced as an amateur with VC La Pomme.
"I did the under-23 one but that was when I was 19 so it's a while ago now. It was hard but there’s definitely a technique to it, and it's all experience, too," said Bennett.
"After the job the boys put in today, I'll have to suffer a bit and repay them at the weekend. Whatever the team ask me to do, I'll do."