Climbing holds key to Bennett’s San Remo chances

If he can remain in contention, Irishman has all the credentials for the usual sprint finish

 Sam Bennett (Bora Hansgrohe) celebrates one of his two stage wins in the   Paris-Nice  race – stage three over 200km from Cepoy to Moulins/Yzeure in France. Photograph: Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA

Sam Bennett (Bora Hansgrohe) celebrates one of his two stage wins in the Paris-Nice race – stage three over 200km from Cepoy to Moulins/Yzeure in France. Photograph: Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA

 

Sam Bennett has proven during his career that he is amongst the fastest sprinters in cycling.

Indeed, considering his three stage wins in last year’s Giro d’Italia, two victories earlier this season and, most recently, two stage wins in this month’s Paris-Nice race, he may yet become the best in the current peloton.

Bennett knows that laying claim to the top sprinter title would be hugely enhanced by victory in Saturday’s Milan-San Remo Classic. The first of the sport’s top one-day races each year, the Italian event usually concludes with a sprint from a thinned-out main group.

That said, Sean Kelly’s victory in 1986 came after he beat Greg LeMond and Mario Beccia in a three-man sprint. Six years later, Kelly triumphed in a two-up gallop with the Italian Moreno Argentin.

On both occasions the tough finale greatly reduced the list of those in contention. The final climb of the Poggio was the springboard for Kelly’s group to get clear in 1986. In 1992, Argentin went over the top alone, but was caught by Kelly who dropped all the other contenders on a breathtaking, skilful descent down the other side.

This year, the peloton will face five climbs inside the last 55 kilometres of racing. After the trio of the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta, the Cipressa and the Poggio will rear up and decimate the bunch. Bennett’s chances will depend on staying close enough on these climbs to be in contention if it comes down to a final sprint.

But another factor will be the triple world champion Peter Sagan. The Slovakian is a teammate of Bennett on the Bora-hansgrohe squad, and will begin as co-leader. His preparation has been less than ideal due to recent illness, but Sagan has twice finished second in the race and is a better Classics rider than the Irishman.

However the latter is arguably faster inside the final 200 metres and, if Sagan doesn’t get sufficiently clear on or before the Poggio, the team may opt to give Bennett his chance.

But, being in contention at that point will be crucial; to do so, Bennett will have to climb as well as he did when winning the Caerphilly stage of the 2013 Tour of Britain.

On that occasion he stayed with the stage contenders on two ascents of the steep finale climb, and even tried to mark an attack by that year’s Tour de France King of the Mountains Nairo Quintana.

He then blasted through inside the final 200 metres, scooping a victory that secured him a pro contract. Six years later Bennett is chasing another breakthrough. Whether or not it happens in this year’s Milan San Remo remains to be seen but, on paper at least, he has the potential to join fellow Carrick -on-Suir rider Kelly as race winner before the end of his career.

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