Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and the Scheldeprijs is still no love affair. The Irish sprinter has everything it takes to leave his name on the so-called unofficial world championship for sprinters but it’s just not happening for the 30 year-old.
This time around in Belgium the cold and the Alpecin-Fenix sprint tactics, spearhead by Jasper Philipsen, got the better of Bennett and four Deceuninck-QuickStep teammates. Bennett finished as runner-up on Churchill Lane in Schoten, behind young Philipsen. Teammate Mark Cavendish came third.
The Deceuninck-QuickStep train steamed to Schoten and Florian Sénéchal kept the pace and every move in check during the final kilometres. Bert Van Lerberghe took over and led the group into the final kilometre where Michael Mørkøv launched the sprint. Bennett was right behind the Danish lead-out expert and Mark Cavendish was acting as sweeper behind Bennett.
He was asked in the post-race flash interview by Sporza if that was enough men to do a good sprint? “No, I think we were missing one guy in the final," Bennett said. "We needed to follow the moves and use up our lead-out early because we were obviously the favourites. We had to use the guys early. Then guys came from behind with more speed. Then it’s hard to accelerate on to that and then again.
“Also, it was too easy in the laps before and when the muscles get cold, that first hard effort is always the hardest. When I went to the sprint the muscles weren’t warmed up fully. That was hard to go again. It was a mix of things. It was unfortunate that we had a bad day.”
At that point one wonders how Bennett felt about the role Cavendish played in this finale.
Sporza reporter Renaat Schotte asked Bennett if he would have let Mark win if it was possible. “Yeah, yeah,” Bennett said and then silence. Schotte broke the silence: ‘He was and still is Mark Cavendish…’ and Bennett acknowledged the statement. “Yes, yes. Of course. And he has had some great success over here before. It would be nice to see.”
Schotte asked if he would like to do some more races together with Cavendish. “Yeah, for sure. I don’t know what races we have together but we will see.”
A few moments later in the mixed zone, shivering from the cold while talking to the media, Bennett seemed to be at peace with the race. “It’s not the result we wanted but it’s nice to have the two of us on the podium. It was nice in the echelons; quite enjoyable,” Bennett said.
Once again he was asked about the team tactics and the role of Mark Cavendish in the sprint. “I do my own sprint. Mark’s on the wheel. If he could come around then he could come around. I just did my own race.”
Before the start of the race snow and hail came down in the region and the team presentation in Terneuzen, Netherlands, was cancelled. The weather gods were merciful for those who wanted less of a challenge and during the first hours of the race only the cold and wind tortured the riders. The battle against the wind and the resulting echelons – and crashes – resulted in a lead group of around thirty riders where Bennett was the clear favourite to finish it off.
The Deceuninck-QuickStep rider praised the 23 year-old who beat him and the rider's in-form team. “For sure he’s only going to get better. He’s much younger than I am and a very talented rider. I think it’s a fantastic result for him today on home soil and with the history of the race. The future’s bright for him too. He’s already doing amazing stuff. It’s good,” Bennett said.
Late in the sprint Alpecin-Fenix launched Philipsen to the front at the right while the Deceuninck-QuickStep squad was struggling to reach top speed on the left.
“It was not a surprise. They did a good sprint. They came from behind with speed and that’s what you need to do. You need to be at 200 metres with top speed. It was not a mistake from anybody. We did the best we could. It’s just, when everybody is looking at us it makes it more difficult,” Bennett said.
Bennett is now expected to take a break after a start of the season that earned him two stage wins in the UAE Tour, two stage wins at Paris-Nice and a win at Brugge-De Panne. From here, the build-up to the Tour de France will start. Last year, Bennett won two stages and wore the green jersey for best sprinter in Paris where he also won the final sprint on the Champs Elysées.
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