In his first race with his new NetApp-Endura team, Sam Bennett is naturally nervous on the start line of the first stage of the Tour of Qatar.
At 12:45pm on Sunday the 23 year-old Irish neo-pro, who joined from AnPost-Chain Reaction at the start of the year, is worried about whether he’s got his training right over the winter.
The race itself is not new but, for the Tour of Britain stage winner, coming up against some of the strongest riders in the world never gets any easier.
“I did the Tour of Qatar before once with AnPost two years ago, but that was an absolute hiding!” he tells CW at the start of the stage.
“It’s a mixture of feeling nervous and excited. Mainly I just don’t want to mess up,” he adds. “I want to show the team that I can ride well, but I’ll need a bit of luck today too.”
Bennett is not small, but he seems dwarfed when he lines up alongside the cohort of continental powerhouses containing the likes of Jens Mouris, Michael Schar and Andre Greipel at the waterside startline.
“You have to be aggressive here,” he says. “You can’t really let yourself be pushed around.
“But you don’t want to be that eejit that knocks Tom Boonen down, and to be known for that!”
A little over three hours and 13 minutes later, Bennett crosses the line in the second group of a race split up by Qatar’s winds, seven seconds behind stage winner Niki Terpstra.
Splattered in wet sand kicked up after overnight rain, he’s warming down on the empty service roads around the Dukhan Beach oil refinery when a chaperone from the race organisation runs over, clipboard in hand, telling him he is required at the podium.
Having taken a crucial bonus second by placing third at the first intermediate sprint, he has won the young rider’s pearl jersey.
His team rush to get him a clean jersey and wipe his face while his nervous energy begins to subside.
“I was coming up to five or 10 km to go and I was saying to [teammate] Zak [Dempster] that I was feeling really nervous, I don’t know why,” he says.
“Usually I’d be a little bit of a maniac. I had to just put the nerves to one side and just go for it.”
“It’s great to get the young rider’s jersey,” he adds. “There were a lot of crashes at the end, the team did a great job trying to help me and it was unfortunate we got stuck behind a couple of them. I’d like to thank them for really giving 110% for me.”
Later CW shows Bennett the results sheet, printed off and handed out while he was on the podium.
Not only is he best young rider, but that after his first race as a professional he now sits sixth overall.
He didn’t knock Tom Boonen off the road, but he does sit one second and two places ahead the Belgian superstar in the GC.
“Well, that’s brilliant,” he says.