Sam Bennett has shared his disappointment after being told by his Bora-Hansgrohe team that he will not be selected for next year’s Giro d’Italia.
The Irish sprinter won three stages in the 2018 race and had hoped to return in 2019. However with Peter Sagan set to ride the Tour de France in July, the Bora-Hansgrohe management have decided to send German national champion Pascal Ackermann to the Giro d’Italia, with Bennett likely to race the Vuelta a Espana later in the year.
At this week’s Bora-Hansgrohe training camp in Mallorca, Bennett questioned the team’s decision and suggested that they were sending Ackermann to the Italian Grand Tour in order to please the team’s German sponsors, a point his team manager, Ralph Denk, denied.
“I’m not satisfied with the race programme for next season. There’s no Giro and I’m not doing it. In my last twelve sprints there I was never outside of the top three. I won three stages, I know how to perform there and I know the race. When I signed my last contract I knew that the Tour de France might not be an option but I thought I’d be doing the Giro. It’s a bit of a knock and I think ‘what have I done wrong?’” Bennett told Cyclingnews.
“I’m not going to get a Tour de France spot and the Giro is out of the question. There’s the Vuelta but I want to compete with the best sprinters. Maybe this will bring great things. Maybe they want me to do the Vuelta. I’ll keep my head and keep racing. I’ll be professional but it’s hard because it took me so many years to get to where I am. I feel like I’m almost punished. I deserve it [to do the Giro – ed], I deserve it. There’s no doubt about it. How many people could consistently compete with Elia Viviani this year? I was able to handle him. I can’t do anymore.”
Bennett has been part of the German team since the days of NetApp’s sponsorship, and like the team he has developed and improved each season. The 2018 campaign was his best to date with the 28-year-old winning his maiden Grand Tour stages at the Giro d’Italia, three stages at the Tour of Turkey and Rund um Kolm in Germany.
There was a dip in form and results over the summer but the Irish rider thought that his strong ride at the Giro d’Italia would ensure a return to Italy in 2019. However, in October Bennett was informed that the 24-year-old Ackermann would be handed a Grand Tour debut at the Corsa Rosa. The German national champion has also enjoyed a successful season with some impressive riders during the Spring Classics, followed by stage wins at the Tour de Romandie and the Criterum du Dauphine. He also won RideLondon and two stages at the Tour de Pologne, before ending his season with three more victories.
Bora-Hansgrohe have tried to balance the demands of their three sprinters in Sagan, Bennett and Ackermann but with the Vuelta a Espana seen as the lesser of the three Grand Tours, one of the trio was always going to be disappointed unless the team decided to double-up at the Tour de France.
While frustrated with the team’s stance, Bennett praised Denk’s commercial know-how in finding new sponsors and building the team towards the higher echelons of the WorldTour. That said, the Irish rider also suggested that Denk was looking to appease sponsor demands by giving Ackermann his Grand Tour debut instead of rewarding Bennett with another Giro d’Italia ride.
“Ralph does a very good job of bringing in sponsors and making it work. He’s great at putting the team together and marketing. It’s a German team and there’s things that a German sponsor expects with certain riders at certain races.
"Germany has a big market for this and they can show how much TV coverage they can get by placing certain riders at certain races. You can’t fault Ralph for that. He’s done an amazing job bringing it from NetApp to Bora-Hansgrohe. He’s got a great business head and I respect that.”
“It just might impact me at a crucial point in my career and I can’t let my legs do the talking because it’s nothing to do with how well I perform,” Bennett added.
“If I was German I think I’d discussing doing some sprints in the Tour de France but I don’t know… There’s nothing I can do.”
“They [the team -ed] have their own ideas on what they need. Cycling is hard these days with getting sponsors and it’s a German team with German sponsors and they need to do things a certain way. It’s not like my legs can do the talking, I literally can’t do much. I have to respect the decision of the team. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to ride with the team. It’s one of the biggest teams in the world, and I respect their needs. I’ll target every opportunity I can.”
Denk denied that the decision to leave Bennett off the Giro d’Italia roster had anything to do with nationality.
“We believe that Sam is a talented and all-round sprinter. He can manage the pure, flat sprints, and the hilly hard stages. I think he can win between ten and 15 times and we’re giving him the opportunity to race a lot in the spring.”
“We’d like to give Ackermann a chance and in my opinion it makes no sense to have three or five stage victories in your palmares. There are a lot of races he can show he talent. He won seven races in 2018 and in my opinion he’s good enough to win a lot more. We’re giving him that chance.”
“This is a decision taken by the team and it’s nothing to do with some sponsors,” Denk added.
Thinking about the future
During the summer there had been rumours of Bennett leaving the team, despite a contract for 2019. He denied considering departing but with Ackermann continuing to impress and Sagan locked in for the Tour de France for the foreseeable future, Bennett is aware that he may need to look for pastures new in the coming seasons. Bora-Hansgrohe do appear keen on keeping the Irishman but it is clear that they will need to manage the situation with care.
“I don’t hate Bora. I love it here. For sure Ackermann is going to go to the Giro, and for sure he’s going to win stages. You can’t fault Bora for that and for sure he deserves his spot. I just thought I’d have a bit more say on where I’d go,” Bennett said.
“It sounds like they’re showing a lack of faith in me but when they talk to me it feels like they have complete confidence in me. They don’t want me to leave and I know that. It’s weird. In one way it feels like I’m being smothered but I know that they’re not trying to do that. I don’t have a grudge with anyone, and I’ll still remain professional and do my job. I’ll give it 100 per cent in the races that I target and I will win races.’
“I’m coming into my best years, and I still have a great programme but now I want the big races. I know how to win and I want to show myself. I know that I can do great things. I’m not angry with the team, I’m just a little disappointed.”
Despite his feelings, Bennett knows that he must take the chances that present themselves. He will start his season in Argentina at the Vuelta a San Juan, while Paris-Nice – a race where he has won a stage in the past – is also on his programme.
There is the aim of also winning a first one-day WorldTour race, and despite no Giro d’Italia plans there are still a number of races Bennett can target in order to either prove his case to Bora-Hansgrohe, or attract attention from further afield.
“At least now I know and the season is broken up into three or so pieces. I now know when to target certain points in the season. I think that everything is clear. I can set my own personal target. Maybe they not what I had originally planned but they’re still WorldTour races. It’ll work out.”
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