Sam Bennett had a better-than-expected 2022 racing debut on Saturday, finishing an impressive second on the opening stage of the UAE Tour in Abu Dhabi.
The Carrick on Suir rider was a long way back heading into the final kilometre but, thanks to a strong leadout by his Bora-hansgrohe team plus a powerful final sprint, he crossed the line just behind Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) and ahead of the rest of the peloton.
It was Bennett's best result since winning stage three of the Volta ao Algarve last May, and marks a return to form after a knee injury blighted much of 2021.
Bennett will be greatly encouraged by the result, not least because he told the Irish Times nine days before the start of the race that he was some way off the kind of form he felt would be needed to challenge for victories.
"It will be a few months now until I really get going," he said then. "But we have planned this, we have planned a slower build-up into the season to make sure that the body is safe and sound, and that it get used to the load again."
On Sunday he admitted that he was a little surprised with how things worked out. "Because my form isn't quite at 100 percent yet, we didn't have such high expectations today," he said. "Our goal was to work on our leadout and learn how to best ride together. We took a bit of a risk, and started the leadout late, but it worked out very well in the end. The guys did a great job in a stressful situation, and this performance is of course very confidence-boosting for us."
Challenging for the victory on Sunday shows he is much closer to winning form than he and his team anticipated. It is also a promising sign for the season ahead. "I think our performances will only get better from here," Bennett predicted. "We can be really pleased with how things went today."
The WorldTour continues on Monday with another sprinter-friendly stage, a flat 176 kilometre race to Abu Dhabi Breakwater. Bennett will begin the day second overall, with the time bonuses from Sunday putting him four seconds off the race lead held by Philipsen.
Team sports director Rolf Aldag said that Sunday's outcome will add to the team's motivation for Monday.
"We're really pleased with the result and can certainly build this performance of ours today. Tomorrow is another sprint stage and we'll be trying again for a result there," he said.
Meanwhile 62 year old Joe Barr clocked up a staggering 482.4 miles (775.7 kilometres) in the Sebring 24 hour race in Florida, averaging over 20 miles per hour and dominating the event. He finished 15.5 miles clear of the next rider Marshall Nord (Rock Hill), who is seven years his junior. Ingolf Micklisch (Cape Coral), who finished third, was over 42 miles behind.
The Sebring 24 hour is qualifying event for the famed Race Across America.
UAE Tour (WorldTour)
Stage 1, Madinat Zayed to Madinat Zayed: 1 Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) 184 kilometres in 4 hours 42'34", 2 S Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), 3 E Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers), 4 D Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco), 5 E Liepins (Trek-Segafredo) all same time
General classification after stage 1: 1 Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) at 4 hours 42'24", 2 S Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) 4", 3 D Strakhov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), 4 E Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers) 6", 5 A Tonelli (Bardiani CSF Faizane)
Sebring 24-Hour, Florida: 1 Joe Barr (Limavady) 482.0 miles, 2 M Nord (Rock Hill) 466.5, 3 I Micklisch (Cape Coral) 439.4, 4 R Pavan (Miami) 428.6, 5 J Dann (Lakeland) 420.7