Oudenaarde, Belgium - Sean Bennett of the Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team finished in a team high 7th place at Saturday’s Under 23 edition of Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders Espoirs).
Competing on behalf of the USA national team, Bennett navigated the difficult cobbled sections of the course well and enjoyed a somewhat straightforward race leading up to the Kwaremont.
“The team did a great job to deliver Sean into the bottom of the Kwaremont in good position,” said USA Cycling Under 23 Manager Nate Wilson. “From there it was just about Sean making the selections and then seeing what he could do in the final.”
The first year Hagens Berman Axeon rider described James Whelan (Australian National Team) going off the front in one of the last circuit loops, leaving a sizeable gap to Bennett’s group. The group failed to mount any cohesive response to Whelan and was forced to fight for 2nd place.
“With about 250 m to the finish, I was trying to float near the front and not get boxed in,” said Bennett. “I ended up with a somewhat clear path on the left side and went for it. If I had jumped a little bit earlier I think I could have moved up a couple spots, but I think I played the sprint pretty well for how the rest of the race panned out.”
Bennett expressed being happy with where he is at with his fitness and racing this season. His 7th place finish marked his third top 10 finish this season, arguably the best start to any season the 22-year-old has had to date, but he’s motivated and eager to earn a top 5 finish.
“7th was a solid ride, and really caps off a nice spring campaign for Sean and the team,” said Wilson. “It's been great to see consistent top 10's, and shows that we are a reliable player in these races.”
Zeke Mostov and Ian Garrison, also competing on behalf of the USA national team, were 49th and 66th respectively.
Hagens Berman Axeon teammates Jasper Philipsen (Belgium) and Maikel Zijlaard (Netherlands) also competed on Saturday. Philipsen, recent winner of Le Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux and a heavy favorite coming into Saturday’s race, was caught in an early crash and broke a wheel. After a bike swap, the young rider experienced more bad luck with a mechanical late in the race. Philipsen was unable to rejoin the front group and finished in 41st position. Zijlaard did not finish.
Philipsen will look to rebound at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Zijlaard at ZLM Tour.
(Header image of Sean Bennett by Joyce Jason Ghijs)