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Sam Bennett 'felt awful' just one day before victory at Race Melbourne

Jamie Finch-Penninger
25 Jan 2018

Mystery illness hits Sam Bennett, but he bounces back to take early season win. Photo: Robert Cianflone, Getty Images

If battling some of the best sprinters in the world wasn't enough, Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) also had to fight against a mystery condition to take out the win at the warm-up race for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

It was an imperious win for Bennett, coming off the wheel of Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), squeezing past Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton–Scott) along the barricades and surging to comfortable margin of victory.

It's now two wins in two years for Bennett at the Race Melbourne, the race around the Australian Grand Prix circuit at Albert Park.

Whilst the result may not have been a surprise when you consider the sprinting calibre of Bennett, it came during after a rough period in Australia for the Irishman.

'I didn't feel good the last few days, I really didn't expect this,' said Bennett. 'To be honest, the last few years I've come here without any expectation, I think staying super cool really suits that final.

'I jumped early but came from behind and that seems to work,' he said of his win.

The mystery problem for Bennett struck most forcefully during a training ride on the day before Race Melbourne, where his body failed him in dramatic fashion.

'I went out on the road for one hour,' Bennett said, before adding, 'I did one effort and the mechanic was on the bike and I couldn't stay with him.

'I rode home, but only because there was a tailwind, I was barely able to do 80 watts.

'I felt awful, I barely even pushed the pedals. I just chased cranks and rolled a gear.'

External expectations weren't high on Bennett's performance heading into the race, given he had fallen ill before the Tour Down Under.

The 40-Degree-plus heat on the boiling roads of South Australia did little to help recovery and Bennett wasn't a factor during the race.

'Last week I was sick and absolutely dying,' he said. 'I did a really good winter and couldn't understand. It felt like I had no basic fitness, getting dropped... I couldn't explain it.'

The mixture of exasperation and elation was an odd mix for the Irish sprint star, while excited by the win and getting a mental edge on some of his biggest sprint rivals, the knowledge that he was just as likely to abandon his next race as win it clearly troubled him.

'It's frustrating you know? Then that comes out today and I felt awesome. I don't know what the hell is going on, sometimes I hate it because I can't predict it.

'Just nothing in the body, I don't know what it is. I got the win anyway, I'll take it!'

Bennett's next race will be the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race proper, largely run along the course of the 2010 World Championships.

With some challenging climbing, but a lot of flat, hard racing as well, it's a race where Bennett would fancy himself in good form.

'I don't know what to expect,' he mused. 'For myself, I don't know how I'm going to feel on Sunday but yeah we have so many good riders in the team so we'll see.

'Last year I was meant to go for the win and I didn't make it near the finish. It would be awesome to win that race, I'd absolutely love to win it.

'It would be great for the morale. I'd be already able to call the season a success!'

Bennett's first European goals include Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Paris-Nice where he's shaping as one of the key sprinters to watch for the 2018 season.

He's returned several results at quality races, but has yet to match it with the biggest names in the highest profile races.

Some of the reason for that has been the competition from within his Bora-Hansgrohe team. Matteo Pelluchi and Peter Sagan take some sprint leadership opportunities away from him, while other races see the team go without a sprinter as they throw their chances in with climbers such as Rafal Majka, like at the Vuelta a Espana.

The strength in Bora-Hansgrohe's climbing stocks may continue to be an issue for Bennett. His big goal of the season will be the Giro d'Italia, but the addition of talented Italian Davide Formolo from EF Education First-Drapac may see the team's attention in the race split between a GC push and a sprint focus.

With Sagan always going to be a fixture at the Tour de France, Bennett needs to be very efficient in seizing the opportunities he is presented in other high-profile races to prove he’s worthy of being touted as a star of the sport.

It shapes as a pivotal 2018 season for Bennett, to prove that he's ready to become one of the sprinting elite of global cycling. He certainly doesn't need any mystery conditions slowing him down.

Photo: Race Melbourne