Cycling: Sam Bennett earns his place among peloton elite
Sam Bennett will become the next Irish cyclist to join the professional peloton having signed a contract with the NetApp Endura team for next season.
The 23-year-old, from Sean Kelly's home town of Carrick-on-Suir, had a solid end to the season, the highlight of which was victory on stage five of the Tour of Britain in September.
The German and Scottish-backed squad announced the acquisition of Bennett and Portuguese stage race specialist Tiago Machado yesterday, with team manager Ralph Denk excited by the prospect of signing the young Irishman.
"Sam is among the best up-and-coming sprinters in Europe," said Denk. "He proved that in style at the Tour of Britain and he will be a valuable addition to our squad. Tiago is an experienced tour specialist and we signed him for the general classification at shorter stage races. With his climbing skills, he will provide added support for Leo Konig on the bigger tours."
NetApp Endura have punched above their weight this year with Czech climber Konig justifying an invitation to ride this year's Vuelta a Espana as a wildcard team when he stormed to a mountain top win on stage eight and ended the three-week race in ninth overall.
As a second division or 'continental professional' team, NetApp Endura rely on wildcard invitations to ride the top ranked races, such as the Vuelta, the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia.
Bennett's inclusion in the squad for next year may help persuade Giro organisers RCS to invite the team to the start of next year's race in Belfast on May 9, while Denk also admitted the squad may not be finished signing top riders.
"A lot is happening in the riders market. There are exciting options," he said, referring to the five teams who will fold at the end of the season, leaving high profile-riders scrambling for teams.
"We're still in talks and we'll review whether or not to strengthen our team further but our core squad is all set for 2014."
Meanwhile, Dan Martin finished in the peloton at the end of stage five of the Tour of Beijing to claim second place overall, behind Spaniard Benat Intxausti of the Movistar team. Martin has had a stellar 2013, winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a stage and overall victory at the Tour of Catalunya and a stage in the Tour de France.
The UCI points earned in Beijing yesterday see Martin leapfrog Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintana of Movistar and world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara to finish sixth in the end-of-year UCI WorldTour rankings, won for the second consecutive year by Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha.
Martin's cousin Nicolas Roche finished 36th in the world rankings, to leave Ireland ranked 10th in the world, 49 points behind the USA, despite having just two riders racing at WorldTour level.