Bennett is keenly aware he’s competing off-contract with BORA-hansgrohe this year and hasn’t let an opportunity go missing, recording stage wins at the Vuelta a San Juan, UAE Tour, Paris-Nice and Tour of Turkey.
“It is for sure one of my best seasons so far. I was nearly able to win at least one stage in every race I took part in. I feel good but the season is still long,” he said.
The 28-year-old isn’t bullish about the gains he has made, which spoiled early predictions that sprints would be Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) against the rest this year.
“I don’t think in cycling’s history there have been so many strong sprinters,” said Bennett.
“I am my own biggest critic, so I always try to improve. It’s hard to see myself as a big rider but I think that mentality always pushes me to work harder and win more.”
The Irishman headlines the reduced sprint field that will compete at a particularly mountainous edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné, with rivals in Andre Greipel (Arkea-Samsic), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), Magnus Cort (Astana) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in the mix for a punchy opening 142km stage from Aurillac to Jussac.
Bennett will be supported by chief lead-out man Shane Archbold. New Zealander Archbold rejoined the team and the WorldTour in April, following the resignation of Peter Kennaugh.
“My focus will be on stages one, three and five, those are the best opportunities for a sprinter,” said Bennett. “It’s always a tough race, so I’m not looking forward to finding my climbing legs, but hopefully training on my home road around the south of France has prepared me well enough.”
Bennett has triumphed in every stage race he has started this season, except for the Tour de Romandie and the Hammer Series Stavanger. In Romandie, he won the bunch sprint on Stage 2 for second place, behind solo winner Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ). His own breakaway attempt on Stage 3 was thwarted.
Bennett returns to the Dauphiné for the first time since 2016 though it won’t serve as preparation for the Tour de France. BORA-hansgrohe is sticking to its plan of building a Tour team around Peter Sagan without Bennett, who was overlooked for the Giro d’Italia where Pascal Ackermann stepped in as designated sprinter last month, winning two stages and the points classification.
“It’s been a while since I rode this race. The last couple of years I’ve ridden the Giro, so it didn’t really fit into my program, but this year I’m there to try and do something on the sprint stages,” he said.
“I am not going to the Tour de France, my race calendar and therefore my training schedule is a different one than doing the Tour. I have other goals this season. If everything goes well, I am taking part in the Vuelta a España.”
Bennett openly expressed his disappointment of being overlooked for the Giro when BORA-hansgrohe announced its Grand Tours blueprints over the European winter. But he has overcome it, as the results suggest, with seven victories and counting.
“Absolutely. I got some deserved time off the bike to think about my next goals,” he said.