Returning to a race where he has clocked up nine previous stage wins, Sam Bennett has said that his form is promising heading into the Presidential Tour of Turkey and that he is hopeful of taking his first victory of 2022.
The Carrick-On-Suir rider missed much of last season due to a knee injury and is still playing catchup in terms of both form and results. He took placings of second and third in the UAE Tour in February, but has not been in the top ten of a race since then. However, he was 13th in Wednesday’s much tougher Scheldeprijs race despite a rear wheel puncture inside the final ten kilometres, and is feeling cautiously optimistic prior to the start of the Turkish stage race on Sunday.
“I am hoping to get a stage in Turkey,” he told The Irish Times on Friday evening. “It is always an objective to win. I got sick after Paris-Nice and then did the classics try to look for something and then that didn’t happen. Then I went home for a short break out of the Belgian hotel for the weekend, and ended up getting a head cold. I was sick then and just got right on the morning of Scheldeprijs. So it wasn’t an ideal run-in. But I was really happy with the (power) numbers I had there, it was a super hard race. That is promising looking towards Turkey.”
Bennett’s coach Dan Lorang is also hopeful of success at the race. He agreed that the Scheldeprijs performance was encouraging.
“I would say it was a really good step from Sam,” he told The Irish Times this week. “For sure it would have been nice if he could have stayed there until the end. He had a flat tyre and was also on the limit, as you saw in the TV pictures. But on the other side it was nice to be there in that move, making a great effort. For sure it is the next step.”
Lorang said that Bennett has deliberately been building fitness slowly in order to avoid risking a reoccurrence of his knee issue or, indeed, any other niggles that could arise from increasing his training and racing load too soon. He believes that he is close to the kind of form he needs to chase victories.
If that is the case, the Presidential Tour of Turkey could be the perfect event. The race begins in Bodrum on Sunday, and runs for eight days. Bennett has a strong track record there, recording those nine stage victories between 2017 and 2019. Several stages appear likely to end in bunch sprints and Lorang believes it is possible that Bennett could be successful.
“We are looking positively at Turkey,” he said. “Hopefully things will work out there and he can get his first win of the season. This would be a boost for the next weeks, especially for the preparation for the Tour de France.”
Bennett believes that five out of the eight stages could potentially suit him, although he acknowledges the threat posted by rival sprinters Caleb Ewan, Jasper Philipsen and Nacer Bouhanni. Still, he says his Bora-hansgrohe teammates Danny Van Poppel and Ryan Mullen are ‘flying,’ and notes that the experienced Kiwi Shane Archbold will also be part of his leadout train.
“I think we will find a way to make it work. Hopefully it will start to click now and hopefully I will be able to open the account here and get going then with the season. I feel like I haven’t really had a smooth run, but I think things are starting to go in the right direction. So hopefully this week it will change.”
Encouragingly, Lorang plays down Bennett’s long wait for a win and believes he remains on course for a strong Tour de France campaign in July.
He is clear about what factors would help Bennett to reach the Tour in top shape. “Having one or two wins would be nice for the head,” he said. “Just to get the feeling of winning again, and to build self-confidence. And I would also say having a good training block.”
Bennett won two stages plus the green jersey in the 2020 Tour de France. However he told The Irish Times earlier this year that he wasn’t in his best form and that he believes he should be stronger this time around.