Motorsports fan Sam Bennett seized victory on the famous Imola circuit on Thursday, jumping early to overhaul two breakaway riders and dominating the sprint to the line. Bennett was prominent in the closing kilometres of stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia, remaining close to the front on a climb inside the final ten minutes of racing, and then having the confidence to make his move.
“It was a tough final,” Bennett said in the post-stage interview. “There were still two guys in the front. I didn’t know how much energy they had left, and I didn’t want another stage getting away from me. So I decided to go early. I didn’t know if I could hold it or not, but I think I caught some guys by surprise, so it worked to my advantage.”
Bennett took the first Grand Tour stage win of his career - and became the fourth Irish Giro stage winner - last Friday when he beat points classification leader Elia Viviani to the line. Since then he has kept the momentum going, remaining in the main bunch on stage 10 when Viviani and others were dropped, and then picking up third at the finish. He had hoped to chase victory but two riders broke clear and were able to hold off the peloton’s chase.
That was firmly on his mind on Thursday’s stage, with Bennett determined not to miss out again. His Bora-hansgrohe team did what it could to help him out, but the Carrick-on-Suir rider then had to take over on the final climb, marking moves and even clipping off the front briefly.
“It was a bit of confidence,” he said, explaining that unexpected aggression so close to a sprint. “I saw people looking at each other, and I thought, ‘you know what, maybe I will slip away. There could be crashes on the descent, you never know, and then it is better to come from the front rather than to try to make up ground.’”
Bennett was also concerned by the aggressive Bahrain-Merida rider Matej Mohoric, and said his push forward was to be ready for him. Although Mohoric did subsequently manage to get clear, teaming up with Movistar’s Carlos Betancur, chasing by those behind kept the gap to a couple of seconds. Once inside the final kilometre, Bennett had sufficient confidence to make a bridging move himself, launching with 400 metres to go, thundering past the duo out front and then celebrating before the line.
Netting his second stage win of the race and what is his fifth podium finish brings him even closer to the Giro’s maglia ciclamino, the purple points jersey. It is the equivalent of the Tour de France’s green jersey, and Bennett is now just 22 points behind Viviani.
The Italian blew on Thursday’s stage, cracking on the run in to the finish and ended up over nine minutes behind Bennett. That’s a morale boost for the Irish rider, but he insisted that he was focussed on his own race. “We knew in the crosswinds [that he was dropped], but then we heard it was back on,” Bennett explained. “Then when it was lined out again we heard he was gone again. It didn’t really matter if he was there or not, we wanted to race to win. We were just trying to keep good position and race tactically well.”
No Irish rider has won the race’s points jersey. If Bennett can keep his momentum going, he has a strong chance of doing so. However he doesn’t want to get distracted at this point. “I will just focus on stage wins,” he said, talking about his immediate tactics. “It is getting closer, but I am just going to focus on stage wins. Then in the last week, if it is really close then maybe I’ll look at it.”
Bennett will have the chance to land a third stage victory on Friday. The 180km race from Ferrara to Nervesa della Battaglia is mainly flat and a bunch sprint is the most likely outcome. If that mass gallop to the line does indeed pan out, Bennett will be one of the big favourites for the win. Meanwhile, for race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), the stage will be about staying safe and regaining energy prior to this weekend's big mountain stages.
This is also the case for Ireland’s Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing Team) and Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo), who are metering out their energy in order to make the most of opportunities in the final week.
Final leading positions after Stage 12, (Osimo — Imola — 214km): 1 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe 4hrs 49mins 34secs, 2 Danny van Poppel (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at same time, 3 Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, 4 Baptiste Planckaert (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin, 5 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) BMC Racing Team, 6 Michael M0rk0v (Den) Quick-Step Floors, 7 Manuel Belletti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, 8 Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, 9 Florian Senechal (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, 10 Enrico Battaglin (Ita) LottoNL-Jumbo, 11 Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Katusha-Alpecin, 12 Jaco Venter (RSA) Dimension Data, 13 Sacha Modolo (Ita) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale, 14 Jarlinson Pantano (Col) Trek-Segafredo, 15 Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team, 16 Ryan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension Data, 17 Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Fix All, 18 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, 19 Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, 20 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar Team all at same time
Selected others: 32 Simon Yates (Gbr) Mitchelton-Scott at same time, 37 Chris Froome (Gbr) Team Sky both at same time, 66 Alex Dowsett (Gbr) Katusha-Alpecin at 01min 44secs, 114 Ryan Mullen (Irl) Trek-Segafredo at 08mins 50secs, 124 Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC Racing Team at same time, 161 Hugh Carthy (Gbr) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 13mins 45secs
Leading general classification after Stage 12: 1 Simon Yates (Gbr) Mitchelton-Scott 51hrs 57mins 55secs, 2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb at 47secs, 3 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 01min 04secs, 4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 01min 18secs, 5 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar Team at 01min 56secs, 6 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo at 02mins 09secs, 7 Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 02mins 36secs, 8 Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana Pro Team at 02mins 54secs, 9 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 02mins 55secs, 10 Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates at 03mins 10secs, 11 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team at 03mins 17secs, 12 Chris Froome (Gbr) Team Sky at 03mins 20secs, 13 Ben O'Connor (Aus) Dimension Data at 03mins 25secs, 14 Carlos Betancur (Col) Movistar Team at 03mins 29secs, 15 Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb at 03mins 40secs, 16 Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 03mins 43secs, 17 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors at 04mins 01sec, 18 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at 04mins 33secs, 19 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky at 05mins 08secs, 20 Jose Goncalves (Por) Katusha-Alpecin at 05mins 21secs
Selected others: 59 Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC Racing Team at 53mins 33secs, 81 Hugh Carthy (Gbr) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 1hr 21mins 05secs, 95 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe at 1hr 35mins 35secs, 112 Alex Dowsett (Gbr) Katusha-Alpecin at 1hr 51mins 35secs, 158 Ryan Mullen (Irl) Trek-Segafredo at 2hrs 19mins 48secs