Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was the fastest in the bunch dash at the end of a tough day for the peloton on the south coast of Victoria at Race Torquay.
Bennett opened up his sprint from 300 metres to go and wasn’t passed once he hit the front of the race, securing a tight win to continue his impressive run of form at Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race lead-up events.
“I was really happy with that,” said Bennett, “the boys did a great job all day. It was pretty hard at the start after a few days off, it got the legs going. Then it was a bit more controlled and the boys came up to say the other sprinters are suffering a bit.
“I said ‘the harder we go, the better I’m feeling, so let’s start the racing again’. We tried splitting it in a bit of crosswind and I think that caught everyone off-guard except Ineos. They were on, couldn’t catch them out.
The catch of the early breakaway saw a reset in the race, with Decueninck-QuickStep on the front foot again.
“We brought the breakaway back and it started things all over again,” said Bennett. “We got Dries (Devenyns) in the front so we didn’t have to ride and it worked out all really well. The guys did a fantastic job in the final, I kind of got an armchair ride to the line.”
Bennett has yet to be a factor at the Cadel Evans Race proper, but took out the last two Races Melbourne before it moved to a points race format for 2019. Bennett was asked how this result set him up for the WorldTour race on Sunday.
“It was good to open up the legs,” said Bennett, “good for the confidence as well. When the race got hard, I got better, so when I’m suffering on Sunday I just have to remember that, the legs are there.”
The early break went in the second lap after a fast start to proceedings with Neilson Powless (EF Education First), Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain Mclaren), Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott), Clement Chevrier (AG2R La Mondiale) and Rob Power (Team Sunweb) forming the initial move.
The sixth lap put a firecracker under what had been a relatively straight-forward race, with attacks from Deceuninck-QuickStep stringing out the peloton and quickly seeing the gap to the break evaporate. The break of five were swept up as the peloton finished the sixth lap of ten, with Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo) jumping clear to take out the prime.
Dries Devenyns (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) attacked to form a powerful duo off the front of the race. They got out to a maximum advantage of a minute, but the peloton looked to have the pair in the hand with two laps and 27 kilometres to go as the pair just held a 25 second gap through the start/finish line.
Devenyns and Impey recognised that they were going to be caught regardless and drifted back to the chasing bunch with 20 kilometres left in the race.
The race was kept at a high tempo throughout the final lap, discouraging moves, but a few riders tried to slip away, with all of their attacks brief before being hauled back into the fold of the peloton.
In a fast bunch finish, it was Bennett who emerged as the fastest, with Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling) runner-up and Alberto Dainese (Trek Segafredo) in third.
A nasty crash for fast youngster Jensen Plowright (Team Bridgelane) marred the finish, with the 19-year-old future sprint star attended by medical staff on course before being taken to hospital.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger
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