It may feel some distance from the Grande Partenza of the Giro d'Italia on Saturday, and indeed next month's Tour de France, and still Sam Bennett will be entering a sort of Grand Tour mode when he starts the five-day Volta ao Algarve on Wednesday.
For Bennett, back racing for the first time since finishing second in the Scheldeprijs one-day classic on April 7th, the Portuguese race also marks his build-up proper to the Tour start in Brest on June 26th, with a Deceuninck-Quick-Step team to prove it.
Riding with Bennett will be Michael Morkov, Shane Archbold and Kasper Asgreen, all likely to join the Irish rider as he looks to defend his green jersey of 2020 next month, and also add to his two stage wins. With two flat stages to go with two mountain finishes, plus a time trial, Bennett will also be looking to add to his five World Tour wins so far in 2021.
“It’s the parcours we know, with a bit of everything for everyone”, said Deceuninck-Quick-Step sports director Tom Steels. “We will aim for good results with Sam in the bunch sprints. These will be technical, but we are confident in him and his solid lead-out.”
Postponed from the original January start due to Covid-19, the overlap with the Giro has weakened the field somewhat, last year's winner and Bennett's team mate Remco Evenepoel from Belgium riding the Giro this year.
Two Irish riders will start the Giro in Turin on Saturday, Nicholas Roche continuing to ride further away from his father Stephen in terms of Grand Tour appearances as he begins the 24th of his career, more than any other in Irish cycling history. For Roche, who turns 37 in July and is part of the eight-rider Team DSM team (formerly Team Sunweb) ahead of the race start in Turin, it will be his fifth Giro start in all, the first being in 2007.
Dan Martin will be team leader with Israel Start-Up Nation, his first Giro start in seven years. It will also see the 34-year-old seek a hat-trick of Grand Tour stage wins, having won a stage in last year's Vuelta a España, where he finished fourth overall, to go with two previous stage wins in the Tour de France.
Bennett and Shay Elliott are the only two Irish riders to achieve that hat-track of Grand Tour wins, Elliott winning in the Giro (1960), the Tour (1963) and the Vuelta (1962, 1963) before his tragic death on May 4th, 50 years ago, aged 36.