Sam Bennett took the highest stage victory tally for an Irish rider in a single edition of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday, blasting home first on the final stage in Rome. The Bora-hansgrohe rider tracked Elia Vivian (QuickStep Floors) inside the final kilometre and then overtook the Italian close to the line, with Luxembourg's Jean-Pierre Drucker (BMC Racing Team) third.
The victory was his third of the race, and underlined that he is both one of the best sprinters in the modern peloton and also one of the best Irish riders in history. Stephen Roche’s two stage victories en route to overall success in the 1987 Giro was the previous best Irish stage tally in one edition of the race.
“I woke up not feeling so good today,” said Bennett. “My legs were tired, and I wasn’t sure if I could go for the sprint. The race course was really difficult. I couldn’t take my hands off the bike due to the cobblestones during the race.
“ I felt better as the pace increased, and once again it was a great team effort. The boys worked so hard for me, closed the gap and did a strong lead-out. Without them the victory wouldn’t have been possible.”
Bennett started the race banging on the door of a Grand Tour stage win, taking four top-three placings in last year’s Giro despite being ill. This year he made the breakthrough on stage 7, followed that up with a brilliant jump to win on stage 12. Ending the Giro with another win will give him a huge morale boost heading towards the rest of his season.
The overall honours went to Chris Froome (Team Sky), who beat defending champion Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) by 46 seconds and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) by 4 minutes 57 seconds.
Froome’s win has met with mixed responses for two reasons. Firstly, he went into the race with an ongoing anti-doping case hanging over him: during last year’s Vuelta, which he won, he provided a urine sample with twice the permitted maximum level of salbutamol in his system.
No verdict has yet been reached in that case, and under the rules of Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) for specified substances he cannot be prevented from riding until such time as a final decision is handed down.
The second unease for some about Froome is the manner of his winning: he was clearly below his usual Grand Tour level for most of the race, suffering time losses to Dumoulin and other favourites. However, on Friday’s 19th stage he attacked 80km from the finish and rode alone to win the stage by a huge margin. He beat the next rider by three minutes, and vaulted from fourth to first overall.
The ride was far above his level in the race and, correctly or not, drew comparisons with the American Floyd Landis, who recorded a similarly dominant comeback in the 2006 Tour de France but was subsequently banned for a testosterone positive.
Froome has insisted his stage win was legitimate, and celebrated his overall win on Sunday evening. He adds the pink jersey to his Tour de France yellow jersey from last July and his Vuelta a Espana red jersey from September.
“It’s great to soak up the atmosphere here in Rome,” he said. “I need a bit of time to reflect, but this race has been incredible. For any cyclist, it’s a dream to have all three Grand Tour leader’s jerseys. I’m still pinching myself. I can’t believe I’m here in the Maglia Rosa (winner’s jersey).”
Time will tell if he holds onto his Vuelta success and his Giro win – he insists that even if he is sanctioned for the former, Wada rules say he will hold the latter – and it remains to be seen if he will be able to ride this year’s Tour.
For Bennett the future looks very bright. Morale on a high and confidence growing, further sprint successes at the top level seem likely.