Yesterday, Sunday 6th August, the best elite riders on the continent took to the start line to vie for the title of European Champion, 2017.
An Post Chain Reaction Cycles had not one, but two, riders pulling on a different kind of green jersey to represent their country. Our own Sean McKenna and Damien Shaw were called to duty to support BORA-Hangrohe's Irish fast man, Sam Bennett.
Sam is a former An Post Chain Reaction rider so the trio represented both the best of Irish cycling and our team itself. Our General Manager, Kurt Bogaerts, supported the boys from the team car, his familiar expertise a vital resource to the boys in green.
The weather was unpredictable and predominantly cold, particularly to our Irish outfit. Sam has become accustomed to the weather in the south of France while Sean and Damien were treated to 2 weeks of intense Spanish heat during their team altitude camp in July.
The game plan was to support Bennett and get him in as best a position as possible for the predicted bunch sprint.
The wind was to play a significant role. With 80 kilometres of the day's racing remaining, echelons were formed and a group escaped up the rode that left Bennett in a panic: Every major country was represented. ‘I saw France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands and Germany in that group and I knew I had to be there, no one was going to chase'. Sam rode across to the first group expending energy which, in hindsight, he needed for the closing kilometres.
The first group was slowly drawn in and the bunch rode at a relaxed pace until the final 10 kilometres when Edvald Boasson Hagen went clear with two others. In the final kilometre, the bunch was breathing down the Norwegian's neck and caught him. He was absorbed into the peloton. The bunch sprint ensued and Team Norway had another ace up their sleeve, Aexander Kristoff, the formidable sprinter was in the perfect position to race for victory and pipped Elia Viviani, the Italian Olympic track champion, by millimetres.
Sam finished just outside the top 10, ‘I simply didn't have the legs to contend the sprint yesterday. That's the disappointing reality. I did a lot of work during the race which perhaps contributed to missing that kick in the closing kilometre. The guys both rode amazingly well. Shaw did some turns to support me throughout the race and I felt that the three of us worked well as a unit.'
To see current and former An Post Chain Reaction Cycles riders representing Ireland, with Kurt dutifully supporting them in the Cycling Ireland team car, displays the important role the team plays in Irish cycling and in the development of Irish riders.