Sam Bennett is keen to further exploit cycling’s volatile sprint scene as he moves from peripheral to performer in what has been a transformative season for the Irish fast-man.
Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) outlined stages three and five as opportunities at the Critérium du Dauphiné where he hit the first target on Tuesday, ousting Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Davide Ballerini (Astana) in a bunch gallop.
It was another chalk on the board for the 28-year-old, who has been triumphant in five out of the seven stage races he’s started this season after being overlooked for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.
“My goal is to keep adding up the wins and to secure my place as one of the world’s top sprinters,” said Bennett.
“Critérium du Dauphiné is a big goal now and I go with the intention of winning stages and hopefully seeing a good Bora-Hansgrohe GC result too for Emu [Emanuel Buchmann]. It’s a tough race for a sprinter, so I hope I have the condition to survive for the sprint stages.”
Helping Bennett’s general motivation is the current WorldTour sprint landscape, a cross generational minefield with no governance.
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) is at the twilight of his career and Marcel Kittel, Cavendish’s successor and the last sprinter to hold both a mental and physical advantage over the yielding rest, has divorced Katusha-Alpecin and left the sport following an unhappy period.
“I don’t think in cycling’s history there have been so many strong sprinters,” said Bennett. “Kittel is a huge talent and I hope he recovers enough to race again. Cavendish is a nice guy and always supportive of me. I would like to see him win that record Tour de France stage this year.”
The 30-time Tour de France stage winner Cavendish is shy of Eddy Merckx’s all-time stage record of 34. The Manxman is a living legend of the sport, which may alone justify his selection for the Tour next month.
The veteran claimed a single stage victory in the whole of last year and hasn’t won a race this season in a comeback from Epstein-Barr virus.
Dimension Data performance manager Rolf Aldag recently refused to discuss Tour selection, which would normally be a given for the former world champion.
Meanwhile, sparring partner André Greipel has struggled to find a winning rhythm with new team Arkéa-Samsic that has scored a wildcard invitation to the Tour de France.
The fresh sprint cast that was ushered in and heralded at the Tour last year are all relatively on even terms. An early season forecast of Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) versus the rest hasn’t come to fruition.
Both had disappointing turns at the Giro d’Italia where Bennett’s team-mate Pascal Ackermann and Australian Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) properly introduced themselves.
Frontrunner Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), who certified his credentials with two stage victories at the 2018 Tour, has eight wins to his name this season, including two at Paris-Nice that Bennett equalled.
Bennett is set to compete at the Vuelta a España with Bora-Hansgrohe. The three-time Giro d’Italia stage winner is in a contract year but kindly declined to share factors that could sweeten a deal for him to stay or move on to another squad looking ahead to 2020.
“I am not able to talk about my contract,” he said.
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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, television reporter and presenter, who has provided coverage for Cycling Weekly from races across the world. She has covered eight Tours de France, as well as reporting for national and international newspapers as well as other magazines.
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