Sam Bennett sprints to victory at Race Melbourne, the Cadel’s Race curtain-raiser crit

by Matt de Neef


MELBOURNE, Australia (CT) – After several near misses last week at the Tour Down Under, Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) has taken his first win of the 2017 season, sprinting to victory at Race Melbourne.

The Irishman flew down the barriers to take a comfortable victory in the 116.6km circuit around Melbourne’s Albert Park, finishing several bike lengths ahead of Danny van Poppel (Sky) and Scott Sunderland (IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness). Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) was fourth while pre-race favourite Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) had to settle for fifth place after being boxed in.

“I’m extremely happy,” Bennett said afterwards. “To get the first win of the season’s really nice and takes a little bit of pressure off.”

“I’d like to thank Ralph [Denk, team manager] and Bora-Hansgrohe for setting up a great race program and supporting us here and also to my teammates who supported me all day. They did a fantastic job and they got me out of trouble even the last three corners.

“I kind of lost the wheel and they still managed to get me in a great position.”

The smooth, flat roads of Melbourne’s Formula 1 Grand Prix track ensured high-speed racing from the gun, with the race completed at an average speed of 49.4km/h. A group of roughly 15 riders got clear on the first of 22 laps with Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott), Luke Rowe (Sky) and Will Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac) among the big names present. The leaders worked well together but never got more than 30 seconds clear of the peloton.

The race was all back together at the end of lap 6, prompting another group roughly 15 riders to forge clear on lap 7. Chaves was there again, being joined by the likes of Ian Stannard (Sky), Sergio Henao (Sky), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Koen de Kort (Trek-Segafredo).

The gap grew to just under a minute by the end of lap 10 but came down from there under the impetus of UnitedHealthcare and Orica-Scott in the bunch. The race was all back together on lap 20, which prompted several more riders to try and get clear, including reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky). Those moves were nullified as the pace in the bunch increased to beyond 50km/h and the race headed towards a bunch sprint.

It was only then that Bora-Hansgrohe really started contributing to the pacemaking.

“We just kind of came in relaxed and we just let the race happen and we didn’t try to take control or force it,” Bennett said of the team’s strategy. “If it came back to a sprint we were going to try and do something but otherwise we we’re just going to just be relaxed.”

The race did come to a sprint in which Bennett proved too strong, despite Australian criterium champion Caleb Ewan being the big favourite.

“I think on Caleb’s side he was just a little bit unlucky,” Bennett said. “You see how fast he is — he’s incredibly fast — I don’t know if I’d have won today if he was on top form.”

Bennett continues his season this Sunday at the Cadel’s Evans Great Ocean Road Race, an event he’s keen to get a good result in. From there he’ll head to Europe where he’s targeting Paris-Nice and the Giro d’Italia as his big goals in the first half of the season.

Earlier in the day Kirsten Wild (Cylance) won the elite women’s event in a photo finish ahead of Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini).

Results

Time/Gap Bonus
1. 21 Sam BENNETT (BOH) 2h21:39
2. 116 Danny VAN POPPEL (SKY) +0
3. 181 Scott SUNDERLAND (IWS) +0
4. 127 Edward THEUNS (TFS) +0
5. 91 Caleb EWAN (ORS) +0
6. 47 Tyler FARRAR (DDD) +0
7. 101 Nikias ARNDT (SUN) +0
8. 35 Tom VAN ASBROECK (CDT) +0
9. 3 Matto MONTAGUTI (ALM) +0
10. 165 Travis MCCABE (UHC) +0

Click through for full results from the elite men’s event at Race Melbourne.

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