An element of confusion during stage 4 of the Vuelta a España appears to have caused Sam Bennett and Bora hansgrohe points in the green jersey competition today, with three elements coming together inside the space of 10 kilometers to complicate the defense of that jersey.
The team did a lot of the pacesetting at the front of the peloton, chasing a six-man breakaway which had gone up the road early on. The work reduced the gap from a maximum of over three minutes to just 20 seconds with 40km remaining, 6km from the intermediate sprint.
Just three leaders remained out front at that point and it appeared that they were set to be caught.
However Bora-hansgrohe then swung off the front, handing over to Jumbo-Visma, with the gap increasing again as the Dutch squad was less concerned about the intermediate sprint.
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Bora-hansgrohe subsequently returned to the front but came up several seconds short of catching the break before the prime line. Bennett was beaten to fourth place by his main rival Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) in the green jersey classification, saying afterwards that confusion about the sprint location plus a clash of wheels contributed to the situation.
“We didn’t have markings to say how long it was to go [to the sprint] and then all of a sudden we were in the middle of the bunch and we saw the banner across the road,” he said after the stage. “I think we didn’t even get out until 150 or 200 [meters] to go and it was just me trying to get through the gaps.
“Somebody hit my back wheel — a bit of panic set in trying to get out of the group, somebody clipped it or something like that. Then I had to get a wheel change.”
Bennett dropped to the back of the peloton immediately after the sprint, gesturing repeatedly to his back wheel. His urgency suggested that he may have planned on contesting the stage, but by the time his rear wheel was changed he appeared to have given up any thoughts of chasing back on.
He said after the stage that the intention was not there beforehand to try to contest what was a hilly finale.
“We only wanted the intermediate,” he said. “Let Pedersen take the stage if he wanted, that didn’t matter. Just intermediate today, limit the losses.”
Bennett won stages 2 and 3, beating Pedersen into second both times. He started stage 4 with an advantage of 37 points over the Dane, but ended the day just nine ahead.
He has been strong in uphill finishes in the past, winning stages in this fashion in several races, and has also shown greater versatility than most sprinters in getting over climbs in races.
However he is returning to form after a frustrating period caused by injury and may not yet be at 100 percent of his aerobic fitness.
The days ahead contain much climbing, including hills prior to the intermediate sprints. Unless he feels he can get over those hills with or ahead of Pedersen, it is possible that Bennett may decide to conserve his energy until stage 11, where he will hope to display his previous sprinting superiority again.
That’s the next likely opportunity for a bunch sprint, with stages 13, 16, 19 and 21 also potentially suiting the gallopers.