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Bennett convinced his time has come to shine in Tour sprints


Cyclist Sam Bennett. Photo: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Cyclist Sam Bennett. Photo: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Cyclist Sam Bennett. Photo: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Sam Bennett has waited a long time to get a proper run at the Tour de France so as the coronavirus outbreak delays it a little longer, the Irish sprinter will bide his time.

The 29-year-old from Carrick-on-Suir was handed a huge opportunity this season as he left Bora-Hansgrohe - where his path to the Tour was effectively blocked by three-time world champion Peter Sagan - and joined the powerful Deceuninck-QuickStep squad.

This year's Tour (originally due to begin on June 27) has been pushed back by two months to a revised start date of August 29 after French President Emmanuel Macron said there could be no mass gatherings in the country before July 15 - something Bennett accepts.

"I have my own personal goals, but public health is number one," Bennett (right) says. "My own ambitions are put to one side and you do what's right, and hopefully those chances come sooner rather than later."

Bennett has not contested the Tour since 2016, but has an unhappy history with cycling's biggest race.

His debut in 2015 was hampered by illness before a hernia in his diaphragm left Bennett unable to fuel properly, sometimes able to have little more than an energy gel and a soft drink after burning 6,000 calories during a stage.

A year later, a crash on the opening day left Bennett with a catalogue of injuries, turning the race into a battle of survival rather than an opportunity to win. But since then Bennett has taken major strides. He broke his Grand Tour duck with three stage wins in the 2018 Giro d'Italia before two more followed in last year's Vuelta a Espana.

Those displays caught the eye of Deceuninck-QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere, who made his move for Bennett at the end of last season.

It was not a straightforward deal, with Bennett needing to extricate himself from a pre-contract agreement he had signed with Bora-Hansgrohe, but one he was determined to make.

"If you get a run at the Tour de France with this team backing you, it's something massive and I couldn't miss out on it," he says. "I used to dream of riding for this team but never thought I'd be good enough."

The Belgian team, known for dominating in the Classics and sprints, have registered the most wins of any World Tour outfit every season since Team Sky pipped them by one back in 2012.

"How many sprinters go to Deceuninck-QuickStep and go backwards?" added Bennett, who follows the likes of Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Elia Viviani in racing for the Wolfpack.

Bennett puts much of his improvement over recent years down to a revised training plan in which he focused more on endurance, going against conventional thinking for a sprinter.

He moved away from that idea last winter but, disappointed with his early-season results, has returned to it.

It speaks to a more experienced, mature rider, who believes this can be his time.

"I'm ready now," he says. "I've really discovered myself as a rider in the last two years. I'm not saying I'm the fastest, but I know I can compete and there's definitely a win there for me.

"I'm 29 and I feel my whole career has been building to this. Now I want to go to the Tour and get those wins."

Irish Independent