Although still tired from the Giro d'Italia, Sam Bennett put the disappointment of missing out on a stage win behind him as he sprinted to victory at the Tour of Slovenia. The Irishman claimed a maiden WorldTour win earlier at the season in Paris-Nice and came into the Italian Grand Tour hungry for a stage win.
Losing three kilogrammes overnight following an illness on the opening weekend put Bennett on the back foot but he showed signs of recovery as the race continued, eventually finishing third overall in the points competition. With a strong lead-out at his disposal in Slovenia, Bennett claimed the honours on the opening day.
Bora-Hansgrohe were assisted by fellow WorldTour teams Dimension Data, working for Mark Cavendish, and Bahrain Merida, working for Sonny Colbrelli, in the chase. In the lead-out for the win, Bora-Hansgrohe with Lukas Pöstlberger and Rudiger Selig proved a class above, letting Bennett open his sprint first and hold off Colbrelli and Luka Mezgec for the victory.
"We controlled the race the whole day with Alex pulling together with the other sprinter teams. Because the day was easy in the bunch, the final on the last two laps was especially fast. We lost each other a little with 4k to go, but Rafa [Majka] brought as back up," Bennett said of the stage. "When we hit the front on the last k, Pösti and Rudi delivered me so fast, I just had to hold the speed to the line. It was a great win after a strong team work. I still feel a little tired after the Giro, but the speed is also still in my legs."
Sports director Christian Pömer explained that after the close calls at the Giro, the team sat down to discuss how to improve its lead-out for Bennett. With the changes paying dividends, Pömer described his pleasure with the victory.
"After the Giro we took some time to think about how we can adapt our lead-out to Sam’s needs. I think today’s win is a great example of teamwork, not just on the road, but also from all guys working really hard in the background," said Pömer.
With GC man Rafa Majka sprinting to ninth place on the stage, the team was also encouraged by his result after a stint of training at altitude in the USA.
The stage win also moved Bennett into the first leader's jersey of the race and he will start stage 2 with a four-second advantage over Colbrelli. Stage 2 is also expected to feature a bunch sprint finish.