Sam Bennett gets better and better
Sam Bennett’s (Bora-Hansgrohe) second ever Grand Tour victory was even more impressive than his first.
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While the turn of pace he showed to defeat Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) and open his account on stage seven demonstrated how quick Bennett’s sprint can be, the way he overcame trying circumstances of stormy weather, late attacks, a tricky final climb and treacherous descent today revealed how well-rounded a rider he is.
Whereas the conditions proved to much for Viviani, who was dropped from the peloton, Bennett remained right at the front of the peloton, to the extent that he even found himself briefly a few metres off the front on the final climb.
It was the way he finished things off with an unorthodox sprint that really impressed however. Worried that the two-man break of Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) and Carlos Betancur (Movistar) weren’t going to be caught in time, he took things into his own hands by starting his sprint very early.
The sudden acceleration caught the other sprinters off-guard, and Bennett was able to use the slipstream of the leading duo before storming past them for victory. It was a very difficult manoeuvre made to look easy by Bennett, who is enjoying the form of his life at this Giro.
Weather prevents straightforward sprinters stage
The first half of the stage did not prepare for the action that unfolded in the finale. A break of harmless riders were allowed up the road with little fuss, while the sun shone down on what began as a pleasant day for the peloton.
But that all changed when the heavens opened. By 30km to go a full-on storm had hit the race, which was now split into pieces with stage contenders Viviani and Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida) – as well as Ireland’s Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo), who’s thumbs down to the camera reflected how most of the riders must have felt.
Even when that group caught back up with 21km to go, the conditions and wet roads made the race very hard to control over the final climb and descent tackled inside the final 10km.
Several attacks were made, including big names such as stage four winner Tim Wellens (Lotto-Fix All), Sergio Henao (Sky), Rohan Dennis (BMC) and Diego Ulissi (UAE Emirates), before Mohoric and Betancur emerged as a leading duo.
Their move, with Mohoric setting a ferocious pace despite all the work he did to win Tuesday’s stage, set-up a thrilling finale reminiscent of the breathless bunch versus attackers finales of Milan-San Remo – but it was the initially predicted outcome of bunch sprint that eventually came to be.
A scare for some GC riders
Among those to be caught out in the split induced by the stormy weather were Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) and Richard Carapaz (Movistar).
As the riders placed fourth and fifth on the overall classification, this was a pretty dramatic state of affairs, and their GC rivals responded to it with Mitchelton-Scott and Sunweb putting riders at front of the bunch in an attempt to further distance them
What might have been a perilous situation with time losses of minutes on the cards was however alleviated by a committed chase, and the gap – which never grew to much above 30 seconds – was bridged entirely with 21km still to ride.
Still, the incident was an example of how dangers abide at the Giro on even the most innocuous looking day.
The race for the points classification is on
The way Viviani rolled through uncontested to take a handful of points at the day’s intermediate sprint suggested that he was on-set to seal the points classification.
But after missing out entirely in the final sprint, and with Sam Bennett taking maximum points at the finish line by winning it, the gap between him and the Irishman is now a mere 22 points.
It’s fair to say that Bennett hasn’t so far made the classification a priority – he has been neglecting intermediate sprints, and even looked confused by a question at the finish line asking him about his aspirations of winning the maglia ciclamino, apparently unaware that that denotes the purple jersey for leader of the classification.
But with the jersey now within touching distance, and Bennett on such great form, the jersey will now surely become a serious target for the Irishman.
Marco Frapporti makes the break again
Every Grand Tour has its cult heroes, often riders who spend kilometre after kilometre in the breakaway. Marco Frapporti (Androni) deserves that status at this year’s race, following yet another day spent working hard in yet another doomed breakaway.
He even passed the impressive landmark of having spent over 500km of this race in breakaways, an especially impressive feat given that we’ve only recently passed the halfway point. With nine stages still to race, can he even pass 1000km by Rome?
Given the mountains to come that may be a tall order, but Frapporti does have a realistic chance of winning the intermediate sprints classification. Having won both on today’s stage, he now leads that classification ahead of team-mate Davide Ballerini, albeit by just two points.