Sam Bennett had to settle for fifth place in the elite men’s road race at the European Championships in Munich, but the Irishman maintained that he could draw solace from his performance ahead of the Vuelta a España, which gets underway in Utrecht on Friday.
Bennett’s 2021 season was ruined by injury, and he has struggled for form since returning to Bora-Hansgrohe from QuickStep at the beginning of this year. His lone victory of 2022 came at Eschborn-Frankfurt and he was left out of Bora-Hansgrohe’s selection for the Tour de France.
On Sunday, Bennett was in the mix in the bunch sprint that decided the destination of the European title, placing fifth in a race won by his former teammate Fabio Jakobsen (Netherlands).
“It was a really dangerous circuit, and it was a bit of a lottery with the positioning. I did the last few kilometres alone, but that might have been better anyway, because I could pick the wheels myself,” Bennett told RTÉ (opens in new tab) after the race.
“But I made a slight mistake in the last 500-600 metres and maybe I should have moved up one or two places. But it's a step in the right direction and heading into the Vuelta it gives me a bit more confidence.”
The 208km race was always likely to finish in a bunch sprint and Bennett correctly guessed that Tim Merlier’s Belgian squad and Jakobsen’s Dutch guard were the wheels to follow on the final lap.
“I was watching Belgian because they were really well organised,” Bennett said. “And then when I saw Netherlands move up, I said I had to go. The last man for Fabio was my teammate, Danny van Poppel. He’s my last man in most races, so I know what he can do. I knew they were the wheel to get on in the last 600 metres, but I let Arnaud Démare from France get in because I kind of gambled thinking he’d go a bit early in the sport. But he waited, so I chose the wrong wheel in the end.”
Bennett’s place in Bora-Hansgrohe’s Vuelta line-up was confirmed last week, and while the team will focus on the general classification with Jai Hindley and Sergio Higuita, the Carrick-on-Suir man will have Van Poppel and his compatriot Ryan Mullen to guide him in the sprints.
On his Vuelta debut in 2019, Bennett won in Alicante in the opening week and then delivered a remarkable long-range effort to win in Oviedo on stage 14. In the pandemic-delayed edition of 2020, Bennett carried his Tour de France form into the Vuelta, winning in Ejea de los Caballeros on stage 4.
Bennett acknowledged that he is still short of that form, though he expressed confidence that he was finally on an upward trajectory.
“Today I had a lot more power. There’s still a little bit to go but everything is coming around,” Bennett said. “It's nearly there now, the condition, it's just that I need something to click. Once I get that, it'll just take off again and I can feel it's close. It's just taking a long time to get back to the top level.”
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.