Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) says that the pressure increases when he has superstar team-mate Peter Sagan leading him out for the sprints. Fortunately, like overnight in the Vuelta a San Juan, the Irishman comes through with the win.
Bennett won his first race of the 2019 season on Sunday, the final stage of the tour in western Argentina. In the San Juan finish, where fans crowded the roadsides, Bennett finished ahead of Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-Quick Step). Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) placed 10th and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) 12th.
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“It’s great to win,” Bennett said. “It’s a relief, the pressure has gone. It’s always nice to get a win in the very first stage race. I needed it because I’d put pressure on myself.”
Dimension Data worked hard for Cavendish in the final kilometres. Sagan, three-time world champion and Classics star, then picked up the pace for the last lead-out man Erik Baška and Bennett.
“It’s really nice that the team had so much confidence in me and gave me three chances in the three sprint stages,” Bennett said.
“Considering what Peter has won, he doesn’t have to lead me out, he could sprint himself. Sagan leading me out is really cool but it puts me under pressure, too.
“The whole team did a fantastic job and gave 110 per cent. With team-mates like him, I can’t screw up. I had to pay them back.”
Sagan left Argentina for a trade show in Germany on Monday morning. He had arrived last week in the San Juan province from Adelaide, Australia, having begun his season with the Tour Down Under and won stage three.
“I try to be here and train and not take it too seriously, afterwards it’s a long season,” Sagan said. “The Classics are hard to finish, physically and mentally.”
His first focus is on the spring Classics starting with Milan-San Remo, so he is happy to help Bennett when there is an opportunity. He also did so 24 hours earlier when Bennett led the bunch sprint over the line but an escape had stayed away for the win.
“Winning early gives you morale for the next race,” Bennett continued. “I’m confident going home and motivated to train hard for two and half weeks. I’ve got a bit of work to do but I hope to have the legs there.”
Bennett has a point to prove. He won three stages in the Giro d’Italia last year, but this year the German team decided they will take German champion Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) instead to lead the sprints. Bennett also cannot find a place on the Tour de France team, which will be centred on Peter Sagan.
His next opportunity to win will be the UAE Tour at the end of February. He will face Gaviria again and other sprinters like Elia Viviani (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal).