Sam Bennett says he needs to 'pray for a headwind and try to hang on’ in Milan-San Remo 

The Irish sprinter is hoping for the first bunch finish since 2016

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sam Bennett says he will be praying for a headwind and trying to hang on when Milan-San Remo hits the Poggio this weekend.

Deceuninck - Quick-Step sprinter Bennett dreams of adding a Classics victory to his already illustrious palmarès, but he will need luck on his side for ‘La Primavera’ to end in a bunch finish on Saturday (March 20). 

Bennett is likely to be the back-up option for Deceuninck - Quick-Step in San Remo, as world champion Julian Alaphilippe will hope to chase a second victory when the race explodes on the final climb. 

The Italian Monument hasn’t finished in a bunch sprint since 2016, as the climbers and punchers have dominated the podium in recent years. 

Bennett said: “I just try to treat it like every other race so that I don't build up too much pressure.

“I think we have many cards to play here with Julian, myself, and [Davide] Ballerini. I think we just have to use those cards to the best of our advantage. 

“Julian's going to be extremely strong in the final, especially on the Poggio. He can always say to the guys he has Sam Bennett behind so he can play that card as well. 

“It's just going to work to our advantage having this strong team here and hopefully we get the result we want this weekend.”

The first Monument of the 2021 season features a stacked start list, with Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) topping the list of favourites. 

>>> Who are the bookies’s favourites to win Milan-San Remo 2021?

But Belgian WorldTour squad Deceuninck has arguably the best back-up options for the race, in Bennett and Ballerini, who have both impressed in sprints in the early season.

Bennet said: “I think they still consider [San Remo] to be the sprinters Monument, but I can't see it. Each time I see it the group has gone up the road.

“Every year the standard is getting so high and guys are going up the Poggio so quick. We're going up the Poggio at the same speed as the flat.  

“I was just driving that direction today and it looked like a tailwind in that direction so it doesn't really look that great for myself, but all I can do is pray for a bit of headwind and try to hang on.” 

The last pure sprinter to win on the famous Via Roma was Groupama-FDJ’s Arnaud Démare in 2016, but since then every edition has been won through attacks on the final climb, the Poggio, from Vincenzo Nibali’s solo escape in 2018 to the two-rider dual between Alaphilippe and eventual victor Van Aert last season. 

>>> Milan-San Remo 2021: Route and start list

On his dream of winning a Classic, Bennett said: “I still have dreams of going back to the Tour and winning stages there but something that is missing is to win a Classic, or at least a one day WorldTour - it's something I've never done. 

“It's something that I really want, something I'm fighting for, but so is everyone else. I just have to keep fighting and hopefully someday it'll happen.  

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.