"At Hammer, the race is always on"

BORA-hansgrohe sprinter Sam Bennett has been on stellar form in 2019 so far, with six victories across different continents: in Argentina, the UAE, Turkey and at Paris-Nice. We spoke to him as he gets ready to lead his team at Hammer Stavanger (24-26 May).

Hammer Stavanger will be your Hammer debut. What’s your impression of the event from the outside?

It’s very difficult - the race always seems to be on - so it’s not a race you can go to tired. You have to be pretty on it, and it’s a hard thing to do during the season with all the longer races as well.

It’s interesting from a spectator’s point of view: the first time I watched, it was a team time trial that kind of turned into a bunch sprint [Hammer Limburg 2017]. That was very interesting to watch. We have a lot of six-hour long races - with Hammer Series it’s so short, people are always on the edge of their seat. You always have to try new things, don’t you? Hammer Series has brought something new to the sport and that’s exciting.

As a sprinter, perhaps you understand the value of teamwork more than most?

Absolutely. A lot of times I’m relying on my team to make it a bunch sprint. I rely on the guys a lot, and definitely appreciate the work they do. It’s good having a strong team, being part of a team … it’s pretty nice that you can win something as a team [at Hammer Series]. A lot of guys would take something away from that. It changes the sport a little bit in that sense, in a positive way.

Hammer Series is very tactical with a lot of fast decision-making required: As a sprinter does that suit you, too?

Absolutely, but the track riders are even quicker at making decisions, if I’m honest. Sometimes I’m a bit slow to react. [laughs]

Shane [Archbold, BORA-hansgrohe team-mate] is very quick-thinking in the final and in the hectic races. Also the cyclocross guys. Our tactics will be something to think about ahead of Hammer Series. 

It’s also how you approach it: how motivated you are, if you’re fatigued, if you’re coming into form. It’s your mental approach to it as well. When you’re going in and motivated, and you’re on form, you’re more on your toes. 

In a bunch sprint when I’m ‘dead’, it almost goes too quick for me to make the correct decisions, and I miss opportunities. But when I have the form, it kind of slows down what happens in the bunch for me, just because I’m more fresh. My mind is clear and I can make decisions better.

Hammer Series is really hard, so it makes it more difficult for anyone to make good decisions.

Outstripping his rivals at the Giro d’Italia last year (Getty Images)

Outstripping his rivals at the Giro d’Italia last year (Getty Images)

You’ve had a brilliant year so far: are you at your best-ever level, not just for speed but also experience?

Yeah, I am. I think I just learned a lot last year. I’ve been pretty on it [racing] now for four months. I’m coming to a point now where I need to step back for three or four weeks, dip the form and build it again. So I hope it works for Hammer Series. 

I’ll probably take three or four days off the bike [after Romandie], I don’t need a whole lot. To be honest I won’t lose anything in those days, just get a little bit fresh. Because I’ve had so much racing I will just do a bit of ‘base’ [training]. The power is there, but recovery is getting harder. A few weeks of base training and I don’t think I’ll lose anything, hopefully I’ll just get better.

Sporting the green points jersey at Paris-Nice (Getty Images)

Sporting the green points jersey at Paris-Nice (Getty Images)

It seems you try to have fun and enjoy yourself in races, even on tough days. Is that one of the keys to success - or survival?

It definitely is - you definitely have to enjoy it. There’s too many hours on the bike to just be serious all the time. You have to just kind of relax a bit … you have to stick to the target, stick to the plan, but try and have fun along the way. Because it’s too long and hard not to enjoy it. You have to, otherwise you’d just blow up.

What sport do you like away from cycling?

I’m big into cars. We have a little group at home [in Monaco] that go driving in the mountains a little bit. I like watching Formula 1 and World Superbikes on TV. My friend Eugene Laverty races the Superbikes, so I like to follow him. I’m a bit of a petrol head at the moment - anything with wheels

Is there any such thing as the perfect lead-out and sprint?

The thing with sprinting is, there are so many trains now, it’s too hard to get everything organised. You have to be such a dominant train to overpower everybody else - it almost just doesn’t work any more. We’ve made a lot of plans that have worked this season - but we’ve also had to improvise a lot in the last kilometres. You just have to react in the moment. 

You have a target, a plan, to a certain place, say 1km to go - we know who to look for and what to do, and we do it. When I have the freedom to improvise in the last metres, I kind of enjoy it more, and it’s flowed a lot better.

In the modern peloton there’s probably no such thing as a perfect lead-out. Part of the plan is always to get to a certain point - then try and keep your options open and see what happens. 

Would you like to see Sam Bennett race for BORA-hansgrohe? Hammer Stavanger takes place from May 24-26. Read more about the event here.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sammmy_Be