• Sam Bennett notched up a second Towards Zero title. (Getty)Source: Getty
Sam Bennett has defended his Race Melbourne title at Albert Park, the day after he was barely able to finish a training ride.
Cycling Central

25 Jan 2018 - 9:07 PM  UPDATED 26 Jan 2018 - 7:24 AM

Sam Bennett was equal parts elated and exasperated after going back-to-back at Race Melbourne.

The day before Bennett defended his title on Thursday at Albert Park, he barely finished a short training ride.

"F***, I don't know what the hell is going on," he said. "Sometimes, I hate it because I can't predict it.

"I didn't feel good the last few days - I really wasn't expecting it."

The Bora-Hansgrohe cyclist had a solid pre-season but caught a head cold on the way to Adelaide for last week's Tour Down Under.

"I arrived sick and, last week, I was absolutely dying," he said.

"I did a really good winter and I couldn't understand, it felt like I had no basic fitness.

"It's frustrating, you know ... I come out today and it felt awesome."

Bennett said he struggled badly on Wednesday during the one-hour ride.

"I did one effort and I couldn't continue ... if it wasn't for a tailwind, I wouldn't have gotten home," he said. I just felt awful."

But Bennett, normally riding in support world champion teammate Peter Sagan, timed his sprint perfectly the following day at the end of the 116.6km criterium.

Italian Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) and Australian Steele von Hoff (Kordamentha) was third.

Edmondson wins Towards Zero for Wiggle High5
Annette Edmondson has been too fast for her sprint rivals to claim victory in the Race Melbourne at Albert Park.

Pre-race favourite Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) had another frustrating finish to end his local summer campaign.

The Australian sprint ace was well placed in the last few hundred metres but appeared to run out of steam and repeated last year's fifth placing.

While Ewan won stage two of the Tour Down Under and led the race for two days, he had an up-and-down week and bungled the sprint finish in stage three.

Instead of Ewan, von Hoff was the top-placed Australian on Thursday after last year's frustrations, when the sprinter had limited opportunities to race at the top level.

"It's been a while ... I'm stoked to be on the podium," von Hoff said.

A breakaway group of seven, featuring Australians Nathan Earle and Nathan Elliot, formed on lap four of the 22-lap criterium.

The remnants of that breakaway were not caught until the final lap, but the sprinters' teams timed the catch perfectly.

Daan Oliver (LottoNL-Jumbo) crashed early in the race and was taken to the hospital. Michael Rice and Aaron Gate also crashed but were not hurt seriously.

Earlier on Thursday, Australian Annette Edmondson won the 63.6 women's race, also taking out a bunch sprint.

Race Melbourne is a lead-up to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race at Geelong.

The women's race is on Saturday and the men's event is on Sunday.