Bennett hits the bullseye in first sprint target of Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España rookie Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) has continued his superb 2019 season with his first victory at what was effectively the first opportunity on offer for a bunch sprint.

Although no win is ever straightforward, the 28-year-old made his maiden Vuelta a Espana victory in Alicante look easy with a margin of several bike lengths over second-placed Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo).

Bennett has now racked up 12 wins this season, 10 of them in the WorldTour and after three Giro stage wins in 2018, stage 3 of the 2019 Vuelta is his fourth in a Grand Tour.

Having recently won three stages and the points jersey in the BinckBank Tour, Bennett had told Cyclingnews before the Vuelta that he might be feeling the pressure more - but even that added stress did not prove an obstacle.

This was the first time in the Vuelta a Espana's history that an Irish rider has won a stage while another Irish rider is in the overall lead and to cap it all, Bennett's triumph came whilst wearing the National Road-Race Champion's jersey.

"I'm really happy, I really wanted to represent this jersey the best I can and to get this win," Bennett said. "I'm very proud but also I felt a lot of pressure from myself and a lot of high expectations, so I'm just relieved as well."

On a great day for Irish cycling, Bennett said that he was delighted to be giving the home fans something to cheer about. "Hopefully it'll generate more interest for the Irish fans and public. It's fantastic we have such a strong presence here."

Before the Vuelta, Bennett had expressed some hopes that stage 2 could culminate with a bunch sprint. Instead, the intense GC battle that was unleashed on the steep second-category climb 25 kilometres from the line in Calpe meant the sprinters were squeezed off the table. In Bennett's case, as soon as he reached the foot of the climb and began going backwards - as happened to all of the sprinters - the already remote option of a bunch sprint evaporated completely.

"I didn't feel great yesterday [Monday] and that produced some doubts, but I got great support today and I was able to take on the sprint feeling very confident. I had a few problems finding a good gap to come through, but finally it all worked out," Bennett explained.

Another bunch sprint beckons on Tuesday, although the storms and rough weather forecast for this part of Spain could cause some serious last-minute alterations in the route. Assuming all goes according to plan, it'll be a chance for Bennett to double his score.

Certainly, his plans from here on can be reduced to one word: "Win," he said with a chuckle. "I always feel that when you get the first one in a Grand Tour, it makes it a lot easier, but the longer it goes on without winning, the more the pressure builds.

"There don't seem to be that many opportunities in this year's Vuelta and if don't get it this week, almost waiting till last week of the race. So it's good to get the win in early." And in Bennett's case, that win has come as early as possible.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.