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by Sophie Smith
February 11, 2016
Photography by Cor Vos
DOHA, Qatar (CT) – Irishman Sam Bennett is making inroads against the best sprinters as his Bora-Argon 18 team looks to emulate a world renowned lead-out train.
The 25-year-old is currently racing at the Tour of Qatar with the backing of the German Pro Continental squad that includes Australian Zak Dempster, who skipped home nation races last month in an effort to be more competitive in Europe.
Dempster has become a fixture in Bennett’s lead-out which is looking at Andre Greipel’s set-up at Lotto Soudal as it works on the mechanics of its own train in Qatar.
“You can see the body types and also the strength, how they’ve come through and now they nail it every time,” Dempster said. “So [we] try and emulate those guys a little bit.
“You have to work on it, you can’t click your fingers and make a lead-out work, understand each other and know where to be. Just because you get it right one day doesn’t mean you’re going to get it right the next so it’s trying to nail it most of the time.”
German Rudiger Selig has transferred to Bora-Argon 18 from Katusha this season and is set to slot into Bennett’s burgeoning arsenal which the 6’3” (190cm) tall and lithe Dempster has changed his position within.
The 28-year-old fashions himself on Greipel’s lieutenant Marcel Sieberg when explaining his role in the lead-out.
“Normally I was in front of Sam and then when Shane [Archbold] was there he would go behind me so now I’d be third guy, so Rudy and Shane behind me,” he said.
Dempster at last year’s Tour of Qatar.
Dempster has adopted a different approach to the 2016 season at the request of his team. He trained in Melbourne, Victoria but didn’t take part in the Australian summer races. The hope is that delaying his season start will pay dividends when Bennett targets major events like Milan-San Remo.
“Usually I come into the season pretty hot and I’m running on empty by the end – mentally and physically,” Dempster said. “So I’m trying to save some biscuits for the end of the season.
“That’s not to say the Australian races are small fry at all but for the team the important ones are in the European season so I guess from that point of view it’s more important that I’m fresh for those, rather than the Australian ones.
“But I’m not done with the races in Australia yet so hopefully I get to go back to them.”
This year’s Tour of Qatar hasn’t lent itself to traditional lead-outs with its signature wind-battered landscape demanding riders be ‘on’ all day. However, Bennett and his crew have been in the mix, showcasing not just speed but race savvy.
The sprinter did not figure in stage two on Tuesday, where there was a crash in the high-speed final. But on stage one, with Dempster and other teammates, Bennett made an elite group of 21 riders which included all the main contenders, before finishing fourth behind winner Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data).
“I was really lucky to get in because I was swinging a bike length off the back,” Bennett said. “I just got into this gap, I don’t know how I got in, and then I kept riding until I recovered again.
“The guys did an amazing job all day trying to look after me but I think I bottled it a bit at the end, just waited too long and I should have been a bit more aggressive. But maybe it was a confidence thing that I didn’t expect to be there. Hopefully I don’t do the same mistake twice.”
Bennett will have another opportunity to vie for line honours in stage four on Thursday and should not be discounted as he continues to progress in Qatar.
“It’s not like where you have climbs and then descend and take it easy on the descents, it’s like all day you have to ride and ride to hold position. You’re always concentrating, you can’t relax and that’s the hardest thing for me anyway,” he said.