Sam Bennett shrugs off illness to go back-to-back at Race Melbourne

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ALBERT PARK, Australia (CT) – A day after cutting a training ride short due to illness Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) has outsprinted some of the world’s best to win his second consecutive Race Melbourne.

Bennett bided his time in the peloton as a breakaway group led for most of the 22 laps around the Albert Park Formula 1 circuit. With the race all back together in the final lap Bennett waited for his moment and then dashed to what was ultimately a comfortable victory.

Elia Viviani (QuickStep Floors) was second across the line, Steele von Hoff (KordaMentha Australia) was third, Nikias Arndt (Sunweb) was fourth, and pre-race favourite Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) had to settle for fifth.

Despite winning the inaugural Race Melbourne a year ago, Bennett was surprised to pull off a second-straight victory.

“To be honest the last two years I came without any expectation and I think staying super cool — it really suits that final,” he said. “Today I felt good and confidence was up from that. And then it just stayed really good and I just waited. I jumped early but I came from behind and [that] seems to work.”

Just a day earlier Bennett had been unable to complete a training ride, having felt like he had “nothing in the body”.

“I went out [on] the road one hour, did one effort and couldn’t continue,” he said. “The DS was out with us, the mechanic was on the bike and I couldn’t stay with them. [Thankfully] there was a tailwind home — I wouldn’t have got home. I would have had to call the cars. [I was] barely able to do 80 watts. Just felt awful.

“I didn’t even push the pedals, I just chased cranks, rolled the gear. I dunno — I just rested up and ate plenty and it was good.”

When Bennett arrived in Adelaide for last week’s Santos Tour Down Under he was already battling illness. It’s been a challenging period since.

“I arrived sick and last week I was absolutely dying,” Bennett said of racing the Tour Down Under. “I did a really good winter and I couldn’t understand. It felt like I had no basic fitness, getting dropped and … I couldn’t explain it.

“Frustrating you know? That comes out today and I felt awesome. Fuck, I don’t know what the hell is going on — sometimes I hate it because I can’t predict it.”

It took four laps of the 5.3km circuit for the race’s main breakaway to get clear. Peter Koning (Aqua Blue Sport), Chad Haga (Sunweb), Nathan Elliott (KordaMentha Australia), Jose Goncalves (Katusha-Alpecin), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Owain Doull (Sky) and Nathan Earle (Israel Cycling Academy) forged clear, building a lead that got as high as 1:13 at one point. But with Mitchelton-Scott and QuickStep Floors controlling the peloton, the race was always destined to end in a bunch sprint.

Elliott was dropped on lap 20 with the gap at roughly 20 seconds and Doull was dropped on the following lap. By midway through the final lap the last of the breakaway riders — Goncalves — had been accounted for, setting the scene for a bunch sprint.

After today’s curtain-raiser for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the main event is set to take place on Sunday morning in Geelong. Bora-Hansgrohe will go in with one of the strongest teams on the startlist, courtesy of Jay McCarthy and former winner Peter Kennaugh. Bennett is hoping he can feature as well, assuming he’s feeling ok.

“[For] myself, I don’t know how I’m going to feel Sunday just the way I’m going,” he said. “We have so many good riders on the team, we have a super-strong team — hopefully we can do something.

“Last year I was meant to try and go for the win and I didn’t make it to near the finish. It would be awesome — [I’d] absolutely love to win that race. Be great for the morale. I’d be already able to call the season a success if I did that.”

After Cadel’s Race Bennett will head back to Europe where he’ll build towards Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Paris-Nice.

Click through to read our preview of Sunday’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

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