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Sam Bennett rounded a corner and reentered the frame when he surged to sprint victory at the Eschborn-Frankfurt on Sunday.
A grim 12 months spent outside the winner’s circle and struggling with knee injuries, team politik and self-doubt came to a close when the former Tour de France green jersey kicked to a convincing first win since his return to Bora-Hansgrohe.
“My last win was already 350 days ago, and it was definitely about time to win a race again – I’m more than happy this worked out today,” an elated Bennett said Sunday.
A razor-sharp leadout from teammate Danny van Poppel set Bennett on track for a superfast Frankfurt finish. The Irishman crossed the line well clear of top sprinters Alexander Kristoff and Fernando Gaviria in a throwback to the Bennett of a pre-injury era.
- Bennett’s coach talks rebuilding Irishman’s Tour de France form
- Bennett off the back and playing catch-up at Paris-Nice
Next on the program is the Tour de France, and there could be plenty more Bennett to come.
“The last couple of months were just working on the base and I only started working on the top end in the last 10 days, and it’s already shown,” Bennett said. “I have a training period now where I can really work toward some big goals in June, July.”
Playing ‘Plan A’ with Bora-Hansgrohe
Bennett’s victory Sunday sees the Irishman definitively close the Quick-Step chapter and open a fresh book with his Bora team.
The Irishman returned to Bora-Hansgrohe this winter as quickly as Patrick Lefevere ousted him from favor at “The Wolfpack” last summer.
A winning dynamic after six successful seasons with the German crew late last decade and the exit of Peter Sagan drew Bennett back. He knew the staff, the set-up, and wanted to return to the success that he saw in his first spell with the squad.
Bennett’s old buddy and team boss Ralph Denk welcomed the sprinter into the fold and gave him the space to breathe and the time to rebuild. The Irishman reunited with his former coach and together, they engineered a slow steady rebuild for Bennett’s battered knee.
It was a cautious approach far from the whirlwind expectations typical of the WorldTour.
After a winter playing catch-up, Sunday was Bennett’s time to repay Bora’s favors. The opportunity for victory in front of the team’s home crowd was the perfect moment.
“I’m super happy with this result. German team, German race, it’s fantastic to get the win for them,” Bennett said after finishing first in Frankfurt. “Pressure? No one puts pressure on me like I put pressure on myself, so it doesn’t really matter. But I knew it was important to get a result today.”
Sunday’s Frankfurt classic was a dead-cert for a sprint finish.
But with fastmen like Gaviria, Kristoff, Biniam Girmay and Jasper Philipsen in the scrum, few might have thought Bennett would prove sprinter number one – except for Bora-Hansgrohe, that is.
“We had a plan for today, and the riders absolutely committed to that and executed what we discussed before the race in a perfect and dominant way. Riding for Sam Bennett definitely was ‘Plan A’ and we didn’t even have to think about ‘Plan B’ today,” said sport director Jens Zemke.
Nine months after confirming his return to Bora-Hansgrohe, Bennett delivered for Denk and confirmed he could still be the sprinter he once was.
Bennett boards the Bora express
Bennett was slow out off the blocks this season. He described himself as coming back from “level zero” after months nursing injuries, and coach Dan Lorang’s training program reflected that.
A few close calls on season-debut at the UAE Tour showed Bennett’s natural poise, but it went downhill from there. The Irishman was chasing wheels in the crosswinds and steep hills of the ever-intense Paris-Nice and had little in his legs for Tour of Turkey.
“It didn’t always go according to plan during the past few weeks, so it’s even nicer to take such a win in front of our home crowds and fans in Frankfurt,” Zemke said Sunday.
Perhaps most promising for Bora-Hansgrohe was Bennett’s delivery. The German team built an all-new leadout around him when he returned to the team in winter.
Ryan Mullen, long-time wingman Shane Archbold, and top sprinter Van Poppel all came in to drive Bennett to the line. The train worked perfect straight out of the gate, but Bennett kept missing the ride.
Sunday finally saw the Bora express couple together nicely.
“Right off the gun the team put their stamp on the race and worked very hard for me. Danny van Poppel did a great lead out in the end and the only thing I had to do was to bring it to the line,” Bennett said. “I really want to thank everyone who believed in me.”
Bennett now reboots for the Tour de France.
Beating Kristoff and Gaviria in Germany is one thing, but beating Caleb Ewan and Fabio Jakobsen in France could be another. However, just like Cavendish proved with his turnaround at the Tour de France last summer, sprint skills don’t die fast.
The Grand Départ is still three months away, but all of a sudden, Bennett seems back in the frame.