Sam Bennett starts the third Grand Tour of his career tomorrow, when he leads the Bora-Hansgrohe team at the Giro d’Italia, which gets underway in Alghero, Sardinia.
The Carrick-on-Suir rider limped his way through last year’s Tour de France after breaking his hand on stage one, while a year previously he was forced to abandon with four stages to go.
So, suffice to say, he’s eager to make it third time lucky this time around.
“For my first Tour, I had three weeks with no training and I got to stage 17 with zero condition,” he said.
“Last year, I rode it with a broken hand, so I’m here with much better condition and a lot more confidence in the team to support me, so there shouldn’t be a reason to shy away from anything.”
His stock has risen significantly since last year’s Tour and in March he took a career-best win with a stage victory at Paris-Nice. In capturing his first World-Tour win, he proved he has what it takes to beat anyone on his day and, over the next three weeks, he should have several chances to add to that tally.
“That win gave me a lot of confidence, but also a lot of confidence with what I’m doing in training,” said Bennett.
“It shows I’m capable of competing with the best after I’ve prepared better, but, at the end of the day, you still have to do it and, after four weeks with no racing, you’re a little bit nervous, though I’m sure that’ll go after the first stage,” he added in reference to the last month, where he’s favoured training over racing in preparation.
So far has he come in the last 18 months, that Bennett was asked by his team what riders he’d like to have around him for his maiden Giro.
“I just asked for guys who I know will back me 100% and believe in me.
“I think that’s the main thing, there are a lot of strong guys in the team, but the team I’ve picked here is a great group and they work really well.
“We have a lot of engines, guys who are able to climb and go well on the flat. We have good all-rounders and it should work really well.”
Tomorrow’s opening stage is suited to a man of Bennett’s characteristics as a sprinter and he’s not looking beyond this weekend.
“I’ll be going for the first two stages and we’ll take it day by day after that.”
Aside from Bennett, fellow Irishman Philip Deignan is racing for Team Sky and his role will be to protect the interests of their joint team leaders, Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa.
The Donegal man has ridden the race in the past and knows what to expect, but for Bennett it’s new territory.
“The profile for the Giro always looks harder than the Tour; there are more kilometres, more climbs, and there’s harsher weather. It’ll be hard, but I’m not shying away, I’m not afraid.
“And as the weeks go on there’s more sprint stages and if you’re fresher there, then it’s good.
“I always find when you’re strong enough you always seem to be in the right position, because you’re strong enough to put yourself there, so it just increases the chances of fighting for stages.”
It’s the 100th edition of the race and the field assembled is one of the most competitive in recent years.
Unlike the Tour de France, where it’s been Chris Froome slowly squeezing the life out of his rivals for the last two years, the Giro promises to be far more unpredictable, with six summit finishes and some massive days in the mountains.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) is the defending champion and he’ll be going all out to secure his third win, but the challengers will be plenty.
Last year’s race saw Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto-JumboNL) lose a three-minute lead at the top of the General Classification on the third-last day, when he crashed.
The Dutchman will be aiming to atone for that.
The 2014 winner, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), has a strong team around him and he should be in the mix, while Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Adam Yates (Orica-Scott), Ilnur Zakarin (Team Katusha-Alpecin) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) are all strong contenders, too.
The Astana team will start with one less rider in memory of the late Michele Scarponi, who died while training near his home last month.
The former winner had been confirmed to lead the team before he was killed. A minute’s silence will observed before the race rolls out of Alghero on the island of Sardinia tomorrow.
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