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DUN-LE-PALESTEL, France (VN) – Paris-Nice has always been a happy hunting ground for Sam Bennett, who’s taken five stage wins in “The Race to the Sun” including two last year when it seemed the Irish sprinter was right on track to defend the Tour de France points title he’d claimed in 2020.
Yet, sidelined last May by a knee injury that effectively ended his 2021 season, he’s still working his way back to full fitness and admits that this edition of the race has been one of struggle.
Now back with Bora-Hansgrohe after two largely successful seasons with Deceuninck-QuickStep, Bennett was one of the first sprinters to be dropped on the opening day and finished well back in the pack on day two when Fabio Jakobsen led the pack into Orléans.
Speaking prior to stage three, where he eventually finished 11 minutes down on stage-winner Mads Pedersen, Bennett was honest in his assessment of his condition.
“I just don’t have it,” Bennett said. “I’m a month or two behind where I need to be. Yesterday I was in the group for the sprint but I couldn’t even get up near the guys when we came out of the corner with 400 meters to go. I got out of the saddle and went slower. I’ll get there but I just need more time.”
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Bennett went on to explain that his innate speed and strength might compensate when sprinting at a smaller race, but not at Paris-Nice, where the level is so high.
“I’d say it’s possible for me to win bunch sprints now if everything goes right, but in Paris-Nice it doesn’t really happen like that.
“If you had a slower day and just a fast final with no real points where you need to use a lot of power, then you can find a way. But there’s just no hiding if not. Yesterday I struggled even to ride with the guys in the echelons. So in Paris-Nice it’s not possible, but maybe in another race, it’s possible. But I know myself I’m a month or two behind.”
Bennett said he’d give his all once again on stage three, but rightly predicted that this probably wouldn’t be enough in the rolling finale into Dun-le-Palestel.
“I’ll still go in and try to win today, you have to believe that you can, but the data doesn’t agree with me,” he said.
“We’ll go in and try, but Jumbo-Visma will probably try to replicate stage one, try and make it hard, and it’s not gonna be easy.”
Bennett does, though, have some reasons to be happy. Back with a Bora team whose colors he wore for five seasons, he described the atmosphere in the German squad as “fantastic.”
Better still, the signs are there that when the Irishman is back to his best, his team should be able to get him into the right positions to take advantage.
“Everything’s going great with the lead-outs, I’m the weak link in the chain just now. In the UAE Tour, they got me to 200 meters four times out of four. But there were two sprints where I couldn’t even think straight,” he admitted. “It was me that was the issue, but I have to be happy with the job they did for me.”