Sam Bennett was left frustrated and disappointed after the hectic sprint finish on the opening stage of the Vuelta a San Juan, convinced he could have won the stage if only he had been able to take advantage of a lead-out from Peter Sagan and his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates.
It is not every day that Sagan sacrifices his own chances of victory, but he had indicated to Cyclingnews that he felt that Bennett is currently faster than him on flat, full-speed sprints, and so he was ready to play supporting role and help the Irishman.
Unfortunately for Bennett, the sprint was chaotic, with everyone relatively fresh on day one after the 38C temperatures had tempered the racing. Respect for team lead-out trains went out the window, with every sprint opportunist ready to fight with Bennett and anyone else to get on Sagan's wheel in the hope of a free ride to the finish.
The long straight finish was on a wide road, making it difficult to line out the peloton and so allowing riders and lead-out trains to come up from behind. Androni Giocattoli surprisingly led into the final kilometre, as Deceuninck-QuickStep miss-timed their surge to the front and were caught behind Bora-Hansgrohe. An impressive five-rider UAE Team Emirates train punched clear at the right moment to set up Fernando Gaviria for victory.
Bennett was supposed to be behind Sagan and Erik Baška, but they did not realise they had lost Bennett until the sprint was launched. The Irishman used his speed to try to pick a way through, but his final window of opportunity was closed when young Italian Matteo Malucelli took the same line. The two bumped shoulders but the Caja Rural rider got second place, while Bennett realised he has to fight much more than usual when you want to be on Sagan's wheel for the sprint.
"It's frustrating. I was 100 per cent sure I was going to win, but I just didn't get out to do my sprint," Bennett told Cyclingnews.
"We decided I'd go for the sprint and we tried a different lead-out, with Erik Baška in front of me and Peter in front of him. Unfortunately, nobody expected Peter to lead me out and so nobody would give me his wheel because they all wanted it.
"I lost him completely at two kilometres to go and had to find my own way through. I was coming at the right moment, but then I had to hit the brakes, then I came again, but the guy in green came in on top of me. I gave him a shoulder, but he wouldn't move, he kept holding me in and not letting me out, in the end, I couldn't sprint."
Bennett's disappointment was palpable, despite the chaos of the finish area and confusion about the sprint results due to Malucelli changing bikes late in the race to one lacking a timing sensor.
"I want to thank the team and Peter for giving me a chance to sprint. I hope to get another chance. Stage 2 is for Peter, and I hope to help him out and repay the favour.
"I hope to have other chances if the heat doesn't get me first. I've done the work this winter, and so hopefully the form is good. It will be good."
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