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Sam Bennett loses race but wins kudos for gut-wrenching ride at Gent-Wevelgem

Irish sprinter went deep, vomited and cracked Sunday, but may have emerged as one of Deceuninck-Quick-Step's key assets.

We’re not used to seeing Sam Bennett hauling his burly sprinter’s frame over the steep bergs at the front of a Belgian classic. And we’re even less accustomed to seeing the Irish fastman vomiting shortly after his endeavors.

Bennett defied the odds in as Flandrien a day of racing as you’re likely to see all season at Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem as crosswinds and cobbled climbs left more than half the field failing to finish.

It was a ride that will leave his Deceuninck-Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere purring with appreciation.

The hefty Irishman found himself in the right spot when the race split after just 70km to land himself in the lead group. Bennett hung tough with Wout van Aert and an assortment of tough-guy sprinters for another 160km, grinding his way over the 18 percent grades of the Kemmelberg three times before both his legs and his guts gave in.

The 30-year-old was spotted being sick at the back of the flying front group, and minutes later being left swinging and alone, 15km from the finish line.

Also read: Sam Bennett hits Flandrien form at Gent-Wevelgem

“We went hard over the Kemmel the last time and I threw up my food, so after a little while, I had no food and I had a hunger flat, so I went from one extreme to another,” Bennett said. “The legs blew up and I just had nothing. I couldn’t do anymore.”

“I just ate too much, because I was trying to fuel as much as possible,” he continued. “I had to go so deep the last time up the Kemmel. There was too much in my stomach, and I couldn’t hold down my food.”

A combination of Bennett’s over-exertion and overenthusiastic over-fuelling saw five-hour’s worth of energy gels and the hopes of the team’s first win in Gent-Wevelgem since 2012 hit the tarmac on the roads into Wevelgem. Nevertheless, his exploits could mark a turning point for the 30-year-old and his position in Lefevere’s “Wolfpack.”

Having scored his first-ever one-day win in the bunch sprint of Brugge-De Panne earlier in the week, Bennett further proved his increasing versatility Sunday in a performance that proved he’s got more in his locker than bumping in bunch sprints.

Also read: Sam Bennett’s monument dream

Bennett showed hints of his all-terrain attributes and the potential for evolution from a flat-out, full-gas fastman with his “total racing” approach toward winning the green jersey at the Tour de France last year. And this year, Bennett has marked himself out as more than a grand tour rider while continuing to dominate the mass-sprint scene as his relationship with leadout man Michael Mørkøv goes from strength to strength.

Also read: Sam Bennett, Michael Mørkøv keep winning formula bubbling toward Tour de France tilt

“Sam is currently the fastest man in the world. You can have confidence in that,” teammate Yves Lampaert said after Gent-Wevelgem. “It was a true war of attrition today, I think it was just that little bit too difficult for Sam today. But he can be proud of the race he drove.”

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Could Sam Bennett become the next Sean Kelly, the Irish great with whom he shares a birthplace?

Bennett may not go on to win four of the five monuments like Kelly, but he does share his predecessor’s grit and relentlessness. And he could have just staked his claim as one of the most important assets in Lefevere’s burgeoning bank of talent.