After telling CyclingTips recently that he had possibly his best winter training to date as a cyclist, Sam Bennett received verification that he was in strong form when he placed second to Andre Greipel in his first race of the season.
The Irishman sprinted home just behind the German in the Trofeo Felanitx race in Mallorca on Thursday, saying afterwards that he lost out in the manoeuvring for position and ran out of road to pass before the end.
Bennett said earlier this month that he had pinpointed Milan – San Remo as the first big goal of his season, believing that he had the attributes to be a contender.
Now, two time winner Sean Kelly has given him an endorsement, echoing Bennett’s view that the race is a realistic target.
“I think he can perform there,” Kelly said in recent days. “From what I heard from Sam, the way he is training, he is totally committed, he is totally focussed. He has also got the talent.”
Bennett finished five minutes back in his debut in the race last year, but later went on to beat the winner John Degenkolb in two stages of the Bayern Rundfahrt race.
He is clear on what was lacking in San Remo. “Last year, I went there, I was too heavy,” he acknowledged. “I was four or five kilos lighter in Bayern. All I was saying to myself in Bayern was, ‘if only I was that light going into Milan San Remo, I would have been over the climb.’
“Okay, I don’t know how I would have been at the other side, but I would have certainly been fighting at the end of it.”
He’s at a better weight heading into the new season and also showed sustained power improvements in his sprint in the lead-up to the season.
Bennett is now 25 years of age, and, according to Kelly, he’s ready to contend.
“You need time to build the stamina to the Milan-San Remo level. He has been building that over the last two years,” he said at the team training camp in Calpe last Thursday.
“Last year in the world championships he showed he can go the distance. That is something people say about the Classics – a guy has to be able to do the distance. Sam is coming to that level now.”
In addition to his increased endurance, he also points to his ability to hold his own on short to medium uphills.
“We know the way he can climb – he can get up climbs like the Poggio and the Cipressa, those sort of climbs. He can do that, and he can do it better than some of the bigger sprinters. So Milan-San Remo is definitely a possibility for Sam this year.
“If you get 40, 50 riders at the end of a Milan-San Remo, with his sprint he has always got a chance of doing something.”