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Sam Bennett: 'I felt dizzy; I had nothing left and I threw up my food'

Waterford man falls ill in closing stages of Gent-Wevelgem cycling classic in Belgium.

Sam Bennett at today's Gent-Wevelgem.
Sam Bennett at today's Gent-Wevelgem.
Image: Dirk Waem

SAM BENNETT ENDURED a nightmarish day at the Gent-Wevelgem cycling classic in Belgium after his chances of victory ended in the final 30km.

In the end, home rider Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma won, edging Italian pair Giacomo Nizzolo and Matteo Trentin.

The powerful 26-year-old, who won the Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche classics in 2020, came second in this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico and has emerged as a major force in the sport.

But the story of his win cannot be told without reference to Bennett.

The Waterford man was in contention with 30km remaining – part of the leading group – but after battling hard to remain with the leaders on the final climb, Bennett fell ill after the descent. 

He vomited repeatedly – somehow recovered again to re-join the leaders but was dropped when Stefan Küng attacked with 16km to go.

“We went hard over the Kemmel the last time and I threw up my food, so after a little while, I had no food and I had a hunger flat, so I went from one extreme to another,” said Bennett after the race to Cycling News. “The legs blew up and I just had nothing. I couldn’t do anymore. I just had a hunger flat. I felt dizzy and I felt faint, and I had nothing left.

“I was trying to hold it down a lot, because I knew if I held it down long enough, I’d be ok, but it just wouldn’t stay down.”

Bennett added: “I just ate too much, because I was trying to fuel as much as possible. I had to go so deep the last time up the Kemmel. There was too much in my stomach, and I couldn’t hold down my food. It was just my own fault. I tried to refuel because it’s a really long race and I over-ate.

“You’re always told to eat and drink, so I just kept forcing it down. I just tried to do the best I possibly could, but I did something wrong.

“I thought once I survived that, I’d make it to the finish but then when all my food was out of my stomach, it was only a matter of minutes before I had no energy left in the legs.”

After Bennett was distanced from the front group, he drifted backwards and ended up in 55th place, 4:40 down on Van Aert.

“This victory counts so much to me, it being my first home road race win,” said Van Aert, winner of dozens of cyclo cross races in Belgium.

Nizzolo was gracious in defeat.

“I can’t be too upset because well, the best man won today,” he said.

The 247.5km race was hit by two teams pulling out due to positive Covid-19 tests, while a mid-race fire near the finish line also saw organisers scramble to reroute the closing kilometres.

“We were all a bit lost with the reroute but the organisers were right to reroute,” Nizzolo said. “You can’t say it changed the outcome.”

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Van Aert had a teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck (7th) with him in a long range 20-man breakaway that gradually whittled down on a fast and tough race.

“We were able to launch early enough. Everything went perfect and nobody came past,” said Van Aert, who ran out of steam at the last classic he raced, the Milan-San Remo.

“The whole day in the crosswinds, this is a massive effort but definitely worth it,” said Van Aert, who raised his arms in victory over the cobbled finish line.

“This sets me up nicely and I can go into the Tour of Flanders next week with lots of confidence.”

A fire at an industrial site along the route almost stopped the race but organisers were quick to reroute it with the riders just 80km away.

Meanwhile German team Bora were angry after becoming the second team to miss the big race due to the coronavirus when 17 people in their team were designated as “high risk contact” and placed under a seven-day quarantine.

Gent-Wevelgem officials said it was “not up to an organiser like ourselves to judge whether the quarantine is fair or not”.

Trek-Segafredo chose to withdraw under similar circumstances with one rider testing positive.

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