Things are "going well" for Sam Bennett, ahead of challenging for both stage wins and the green jersey at next month's Tour de France, .
In an interview with Wielerflits (opens in new tab) this week, the Bora-Hansgrohe rider said: “I'm not going to say I'm back in top form. But in general things are going well. I'm still looking for those last percentages, but at some point you have to dare to just pin a back number on."
The Irishman has had a difficult start to 2022, looking off the pace at early season stage races. However, he won Eschborn-Frankfurt at the beginning of May, his first victory since returning to the German team this year.
“[It was a] confirmation that I'm on the right track," Bennett said. "Because after the Tour of Turkey I had a hard time. I had started to win, but to be honest? I didn't move forward. The fact that I made up for that deficit in two weeks of intensive work made me very happy in Frankfurt. I was more relieved to feel good again than to win my first race of the year.”
Despite a field of largely B-list sprinters at the Tour of Turkey, Bennett could not challenge, with his best result being third. He explained that he felt "terrible" at the April race.
"Every time I got into the last 300 meters I had nothing left in the tank," he said. "Completely empty, even before the sprint. It was also a puff on every climb. It seemed like I couldn't go into the red and I couldn't tolerate changes of pace. It was possible to maintain a constant pace, but nothing more.”
Last year, Bennett was prevented from racing much thanks to a knee injury. It meant he did not defend his green jersey at the Tour de France, which also led to a war of words with his then Quick-Step team boss Patrick Lefevere. However, he says his knees are OK now, and is looking upwards.
“It hasn't been easy all year round," the Bora sprinter said. "From the beginning of the season I had to be very careful in my explosive training sessions. But that's normal if you haven't been on your bike for so long in 2021. Your muscles come back faster than your tendons, and that causes trouble. My right knee has been fine since September of last year. But after that my left knee started to hurt. That may be due to the rapid progression in the gym...
"Cyclists are endurance athletes, so before you get back to your good level, you have to work hard. If you haven't raced for four months last year, don't expect miracles. So I had to build up my season very slowly. I certainly didn't want to skip any steps, to be at my best in the Tour de France."
As for this year's Tour, just over three weeks away, Bennett says it won't be an "easy task", but he's looking to win a stage, and go for the green jersey. With Wout van Aert also looking to do the same, and with a full roster of star sprinters, it might prove difficult.
“The goal is to win at least one stage and fight for the green again," he said. "But I realise it will not be an easy task. The penny has to drop, but normally I have to be as good as a sprinter as I was two years ago.”
He will be ably supported by a leadout train of Shane Archbold, Danny van Poppel, and Ryan Mullen, as Bora slightly switch away from their GC focus, as they had at the Giro d'Italia, and go all in on the sprints.
This is what the Irishman and his team will be focusing on in the coming weeks.
"Everything has to go on autopilot," Bennett said. "We must learn to read each other's body language, be able to sense what everyone is thinking and communicate well about it. If we learn to grow in that, we can do great things in the Tour.”
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