This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
It was a day for the climbers to show their hand at the Tour of Britain, but in the end, it was fast man Sam Bennett (An Post-Chainreaction) who came up trumps with a fine sprint victory in Caerphilly on stage 5, while Bradley Wiggins (Sky) retained his overall lead.
While Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Bennett’s fellow Irishman Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) illuminated the race by attacking on the twin ascents of Caerphilly Mountain in the finale, Bennett battled gamely to stay in touch with the gold jersey group, and then showed a savvy beyond his years to find the perfect position in a disjointed sprint finish.
Just over four kilometres separated the summit of Caerphilly Mountain from the finish line, and after late escapee David Le Lay (Sojasun) was swept up, IAM Cycling tried to take control of the select leading group in a bid to set up their general classification hope Martin Elmiger.
Bennett was wise to the danger, however, and he deftly latched onto their makeshift train coming underneath the red kite. The 22-year-old then picked his way to the front of the group as he swung through the final right-hand bend, before delivering a crisp sprint to hold off Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Elmiger.
After claiming the win, Bennett bashfully admitted that he had some prior knowledge of the day’s finale, having competed in last year’s Tour of Britain. “I pulled out this time last year, so I got to see it from the car!” Bennett joked. “I knew if I could just hang on up the climb, I’d recuperate quick enough for the sprint.
“Going over the top of Caerphilly Mountain, I knew when I got in the front group, I could relax until 2k to go. I saw that there were three IAM guys in the group and I knew they would try something, so I got on their wheel with 1k to go. Then I took a bit of a gamble coming into the last corner but I got away with it.”
In the overall standings, Bradley Wiggins maintains a lead of 37 seconds over his teammate Ian Stannard, while Elmiger pegged back a little time thanks to picking up a bonus for his third-place finish. The Briton was pleased with his day’s work, however, having wisely opted to follow his own tempo on Caerphilly Mountain rather than follow Quintana and Martin’s accelerations immediately.
“I don’t have the acceleration that Dan and Quintana have, but I know how to pace my effort and it works for me. I won the Tour de France like that. I’ll continue to do that,” said Wiggins, who praised his Sky team’s work on the front throughout the day.
“I keep saying I’m nothing without that team and they controlled it all day. Ian and David Lopez left me with nothing to do until the last kilometre.”
Quintana and Martin on the offensive
After the peloton was flagged away in drearily wet conditions in northern Wales, a four-man break featuring Jacob Rathe (Garmin-Sharp), Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani CSF-Inox), Peter Williams (Team IG-Sigma Sport) and the hyperactive Angel Madrazo (Movistar) jumped clear and established a lead of three minutes over the bunch.
Sky’s foot soldiers duly set the tempo at the head of the main field for most of the day’s trek southwards through Wales, where, mercifully, the sun eventually poked its way shyly through the dark clouds overhead and the roads dried off.
Madrazo claimed the mountains points atop Cwm Owen and Brecon Beacons, but a sudden injection of pace from Alex Dowsett (Movistar) saw the break’s lead crumble by the time the race reached the foot of Caerphilly Mountain for the first time with 14 kilometres to race. Dowsett would pay for those efforts, however, and lost time after his teammate Quintana attacked on the final climbs.
Pirazzi was the last of the escapees to be reeled in, and shortly after he was caught, the impassive figure of Nairo Quintana danced to the front of the peloton and then bobbed his way clear of the field. He brought Francesco Bongiorno (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) with him for company, and while his acceleration shattered the peloton into small groups, he was unable to put Wiggins into any real difficulty, and 25 or so riders massed at the front on the way back down the mountain.
Between the two ascents, David Le Lay (Sojasun) tried his luck off the front, but his rally was brought to a halt by a fierce acceleration from Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) the second time up the climb. The Irishman is targeting the world championships road race in Florence, but impressive though he was in ripping clear of the field, the truth is that Caerphilly Mountain was not long enough to allow him to put Wiggins et al under real pressure.
Quintana bridged across to Martin as they crested the summit, but the Tour of Britain’s two outstanding climbing talents were caught almost immediately afterwards and a reduced yellow jersey group hurtled towards the finish in Caerphilly.
After Le Lay’s second attack fizzled out, IAM Cycling tried to take matters in hand for Elmiger, but ultimately, it was Sam Bennett who quietly reeled off the stage win after enduring a near miss at Kenal earlier in the week.
As a native of Carrick-on-Suir, Bennett’s performances have been inviting comparisons with the town’s most famous son Sean Kelly even before he claimed a stage win in Ireland’s national tour, the Rás, as an 18-year-old in 2009. A knee injury in 2010 prevented him from riding as a stagiaire with FDJ, and Bennett joined An Post-Sean Kelly the following year, where he has enjoyed a strong run of results this season.
In winning at Caerphilly, Bennett follows in the wheel tracks of Kelly, who announced himself on the international stage with stage victories at the Tour of Britain’s forerunner, the Milk Race, in 1975 and 1976, but his performances this week have perhaps also highlighted his readiness to move beyond the Continental ranks.
“I wanted to really step up this year and I wanted to move up a level. I’m delighted with the win,” Bennett said. “It was a hard finish and I’m delighted.”