Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) was happy to get his season back on track with victory at the second stage of the Giro della Toscana as he works to find an end-of-season peak in his form for the World Championships in Doha.
Contrary to most sprinters, but like fellow Carrick-on-Suir resident Sean Kelly, Bennett is quietly spoken and rarely lets out any anger when he wins or loses a sprint. Today he was quietly proud to have gone shoulder-to-shoulder with Mark Cavendish and happy to have the power and speed to take his scalp.
Bennett quickly apologised to the Cavendish after the sprint even though he had not really affected the Manxman's finish, but he also showed a sense of satisfaction on the podium and during the post-race press conference.
"I was a little lucky today. On a normal day I wouldn't beat Cavendish, so I'm really happy to have won," he said modestly. "It's been a hard season for me due to some crashes and bad luck. I had to go deep to finish the Tour de France and have been recovering since then. But now I feel I'm coming around. Winning is a nice boost."
Bennett will lead the Irish team at the World Championships in the road race in Qatar on October 16 – the day of his 26th birthday. Ireland has only qualified three places in the elite men's road race, but Bennett will be the protected sprinter.
During his winner's press conference, it was pointed out that Stephen Roche won his world title in 1987 with just a handful of teammates against the major nations that had 12 riders. It brought a smile to his face, but he knows the race in Doha will be a real sprinters' World Championships, with the likes of Cavendish, Sagan, Kittel, Kristoff, Greipel, Nizzolo and Viviani all fighting for the rainbow jersey.
"I definitely want to be there and do well at Worlds. A lot of top sprinters are going to be there and so it'll be at a different level and so I don't know what I can but I'm going to give it a go and see what happens. For sure I'll do my best," he said.
Bennett struggled after fighting to finish his first-ever Tour de France as the lantern rouge and last in the final overall classification. However, he was eighth in the recent Grand Prix Fourmies, and his fifth place on stage 1 at the Giro della Toscana was a sign of his form even before he got the better of Cavendish and Bennati in stage 2.
Bennett will race alongside Peter Sagan in 2017 as Bora-Argon18 become Bora-Hansgrohe and step up to WorldTour level. They have still to decide their roles and objectives for 2017, with Bennett focused on the final races of his season and reaching Doha on form so he can have a shot at the world title.
"I've still got a good few races to do," he said. "I'm riding the Coppa Sabatini tomorrow and then I've got one day off, then three more days of racing in Italy, then the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro in Germany, then Paris-Bourges, Paris-Tours, and then finally the Worlds."
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