Sam Bennett struck the first blow at the UAE Tour on Wednesday in what’s to be a season-long battle for sprinter bragging rights.
The Deceuninck-Quick-Step star beat back Caleb Ewan, Pascal Ackermann, Elia Viviani, and a host of other fastmen to open his 2021 account at the first opportunity Wednesday, and as far as the Irishman’s lead-out man Michael Mørkøv is concerned, there will be a lot more where that came from.
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Bennett was navigated through the melee in the speedy finish to the Al Marjan Island stage by Mørkøv, the Danish veteran who piloted him to the green jersey of last year’s Tour de France and a stage win at the Vuelta a España.
Mørkøv told VeloNews before flying to the Emirates last week that the best is yet to come from the sprint pairing as they race into their second year together.
“We learned a lot last year,” Mørkøv said on a telephone call. “You have to take into account that Sam was with the team for his first year last year, and since the season was so strange, we didn’t have a regular calendar and not so many races before the Tour.”
“By the time we started to race we still had to understand each other better, but fighting for green through those three weeks increased the relationship that me and Sam have together, as well as the relationship that Sam has with the team. We developed together, and we can take a lot of confidence with us from that Tour de France last year.”
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) February 24, 2021
Bennett will be following Mørkøv’s wheel through the season to come as the Irishman returns to the Tour de France with the ambition of defending his green jersey.
The Emirates sprint Wednesday gave an early hint that the winning combination of Mørkøv’s positioning and patience and Bennett’s unmatchable finish is bubbling away as successfully as ever in 2021, and the Danish veteran believes that Tour sprinters will have a tough time wrestling the points classification from his teammate this summer.
“Sam can definitely get another green jersey,” he said. “It was no coincidence that he won it last year – he’s a versatile sprinter. So he’s strong enough to survive hard days but can perform in the final sprints, as well as on the intermediate sprints. We’re constantly getting better together, and definitely we have the chance to be in the play for green again.”
Bennett and Mørkøv threw down the gauntlet Wednesday. The slew of sprinters they bettered in Al Marjan now have four months to figure out how to respond before the Tour rolls out of Brittany.