Bennett holds off Dunbar to take Irish Championships

Carrick-on-Suir rider came out on top around what was a tough track in Derry

Bora–Hansgrohe Team’s Sam Bennett won the Irish Championships on Sunday. Photo; Bryan Keane/Inpho

Bora–Hansgrohe Team’s Sam Bennett won the Irish Championships on Sunday. Photo; Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Shrugging off any perception of him as being just a sprinter, Sam Bennett (Bora-hasgrohe) showed his considerable talent by winning the Irish road race championships in Derry on Sunday. The Carrick-on-Suir rider was clear for most of the race with fellow professional Eddie Dunbar (Team Ineos) and Irish amateur Mark Dowling (unattached). Bennett pushed ahead with Dunbar on the final lap and then beat the Corkman in the uphill sprint to the line.

Dowling was caught by a number of chasers, with former road race champion and current time trial champion Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo) attacking from this group to take the bronze medal. Darragh O’Mahony (CC Nogent-sur-Oise) scooped the under 23 title.

Bennett was emotional to take a win he has been chasing for a long time. “It feels amazing. I don’t think it has sunk in yet. I am just really proud,” he said. “The last two laps I was starting to get twitches of cramp. I was trying to bluff it, because Eddie was just super-strong. In fairness to Eddie, he was doing most of the pulling in the last two laps. He didn’t even give out to me! So I own him one, I owe him a big one.

“If he got away, I was happy for him to take it. But I don’t know when this opportunity will come again. Eddie is so young and has such an engine, I am sure he is going to get it in the future. I thought for me it was now or never.”

The elite men’s road race was 162.3 kilometres in length, with the battle taking place over eight laps of a tough course in Derry. Five riders went clear on the second lap, namely the WorldTour professionals Dunbar and Bennett, Dowling, O’Mahony and Ronan McLaughlin (Dan Morrissey - McCarthy Insurance Group - Pactimo). McLaughlin had been involved in organising the race but his dream of a big result close to home roads was dashed when he had a mechanical problem and had to stop for assistance.

Heading onto lap three, the four leaders were 52 seconds ahead of 11 chasers, with the peloton a further 28 seconds back. O’Mahony was dropped on the Chapel Road climb while the other three continued onwards and built a lead of over a minute and a half. However their momentum was interrupted when a traffic accident behind caused the race to be stopped. The riders returned to the start/finish line and, after a period of time, the event was restarted with the leaders’ one minute 30 second lead restored.

The race commissaires took the decision to reduce the race by one lap, thus cutting the overall distance to seven laps, or 142 kilometres. Soon after the restart defending champion Conor Dunne (Israel Cycling Academy) left the peloton in pursuit, together with former champion and current time trial champion Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo), McLaughlin, O’Mahony and Rory Townsend (Canyon dhb-Bloorhomes). With three laps to go they were one minute 15 seconds back, with the peloton at one minute 40 seconds.

The chasers were joined by Ben Healy (Wiggins Le Col) and David Montgomery (unattached), but the seven man group was reduced by one when McLaughlin was dropped. The chasers were struggling to make an impression: at the top of the Fincairnberg climb with approximately 50 kilometres remaining, they were still at one minute 15 seconds. One lap later, the gap had risen to one minute and 37 seconds, but this dropped again to one minute nine seconds crossing the start/finish line for the final lap. The next group on the road was at three minutes and 25 seconds back.

Dowling had ridden very well to stay with the two WorldTour professionals but lost contact on the Chapel Road climb. He was mopped up by the chasers inside the final 10 kilometres, with that group being reduced in size when Montgomery and O’Mahony crashed. The latter was able to get back to the group, but not before Mullen had clipped away in a successful bid for bronze.

Bennett’s success adds to what has been a superb season for the 28-year-old. He had taken seven UCI victories before Sunday’s race, and now adds the Irish elite title to the under-23 titles he took in 2010 and 2011. The win means he will wear the prestigious Irish champion’s jersey for the next 12 months, and will add to his value as teams bid for his signature for 2020 and beyond.

He has been with the Bora-hansgrohe team and its predecessors ever since turning professional at the start of 2014, but is almost certain to head elsewhere after the team decided not to select him for the Giro d’Italia. It favoured the younger German sprinter Pascal Ackermann, despite Bennett’s three stage wins in last year’s race plus his dominance in sprints this season.

Dunbar adds silver to the runner-up slot he took in 2016. He recently made the third-best Irish Grand Tour debut ever when he finished third on a stage and 22nd overall in the Giro d’Italia, and looks set for very big things in the future.

Earlier on Sunday, Maeve Gallagher (Castlebar Cycling Club) turned the tables on Lara Gillespie (Orwell Wheelers), the rider who beat her to take the Irish junior title last year. The two of them were again clear this time around, but Gallagher was stronger on the hilly course and dropped her rival. She soloed in to take the gold medal, while Gillespie got silver and Caoimhe O’Brien (Lakeside Mullingar CC) the bronze medal.

Irish road race championships, Derry

Elite road race:

1, Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe)

2, Eddie Dunbar (Team Ineos)

3, Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo)

Under-23:

1, Darragh O’Mahony (CC Nogent-sur-Oise)

Junior women’s road race:

1, Maeve Gallagher (Castlebar Cycling Club)

2, Lara Gillespie (Orwell Wheelers)

3, Caoimhe O’Brien (Lakeside Mullingar CC)

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