Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) have had a stranglehold on the WorldTour sprint competition, with pundits last week forecasting it was them versus the rest in 2019.
Bennett (BORA-hansgrohe) challenged that theory yesterday, besting Gaviria and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) to take line honours on a cool and windy day in central Dubai. The 28-year-old was still roaring in celebration 50m past the finish line.
Bennett asked his teammates to drop him on Gaviria’s wheel with about 3km to go, when the main escape was caught and fought to defend the position and go for the victory against a headwind from there.
“It’s confidence building. I had to use a good bit of energy to fight for the wheel, but I still had so much more in the final and I could ease up the last 50m. I didn’t have to pull out the sprint until the very last bit,” Bennett said.
“I put myself under a lot of pressure the last months to come out with good form at the start of the season, and the last two races now I’ve got a win so I’m really happy with this.”
Bennett finished sixth on the first sprint stage at the UAE Tour and fourth in the Stage 4 photo finish where he, Viviani, Gaviria and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) were spread across the line. The UAE Tour attracted the crème de la crème of WorldTour sprinters, making the triumph especially satisfying in what he coyly pointed out is a contract year.
“Even like fourth place the other day, it was a big achievement for me to be across the road with the best guys in the world competing. Then to come out and do it again, to prove that I should be here and to win, I’m really happy with this,” he said.
The only real hit Bennett has taken recently was news in December that he would not return to the Giro d’Italia in May despite winning three stages there in 2018.
He spoke out at the time, expressing his disappointment that the German-registered squad had fairly merited taking German national champion Pascal Ackermann instead.
“I wanted to do the Giro, but I respect the team’s decision and there are other races for me to go and try and win at. I want to take every opportunity as it comes,” he said.
The stage win in the UAE and Vuelta a San Juan won’t hurt his standing in the hierarchy though, as one journalist suggested.
“I think it’s more that it gives my teammates more confidence in me. My teammates have never let me down, but it gets that extra bit out of the guys. Also, it’s good when you put on the jersey. We know we’re going out to do something,” he said.
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) navigated the stage where high winds made the peloton anxious, to win the overall title on season debut.
“I only started cycling in 2012, I was a ski jumper before. I didn’t feel it went quickly and easily, it’s been hard for me to get to this level of performance. Before coming here, I was told it’s an easy and quite boring race, but it was nothing like that this year,” said Roglic, who led the tour from Stage 1.
“The TTT and Stage 4 to Hatta Dam made it a hard race overall in addition to the uphill finishes. It was full gas every day with wind and sand in the desert, so we’re happy to go home and take some rest. I’m even happier to leave Dubai with this victory in my bag, with so many big names in contention.”