Wednesday 21 November 2018

I almost gave up on my pro cycling dream - Bennett

Sam Bennett has signed a deal with the NetApp Endura team which will keep him with the German set-up until the end of the 2017 season. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Sam Bennett has signed a deal with the NetApp Endura team which will keep him with the German set-up until the end of the 2017 season. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Sam Bennett at the launch of Cooking with Chia for Dummies
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It has been quite a journey for 23-year old Sam Bennett.

Just last year he contemplated giving up his dream of becoming a professional cyclist, but after German team NetApp-Endura (soon to be changed to Team BORA) gave him a chance, he repaid them with four victories.

Born in Belgium to Irish parents, it wasn't until Bennett was four years old that he moved to Tipperary - where both of his parents are originally from.

His father Michael was a professional soccer player for Eendracht Wervik - he also lined out for Ireland before his career was cut short by injury.

Soccer was always the main sport within his house growing up and as Bennett explains, cycling was something that he just picked up himself.

"There was an underage race up in the woods in Carrick-on-Suir and it progressed from there but I don't know how I got to this point to be honest," he says with an almost surprised look on his face.

"I had bad injury problems from when I was 19 until I was 22. I had several knee operations after accidents. My dad thought my career could go the same as his but thankfully it didn't."

Not only was Bennett himself relieved to come through that tough spell, so too were NetApp-Endura - so much so that he has just been rewarded with a new three-year deal - which is a far cry from the situation that he found himself in this time last year.

A second-placed finish behind Mark Cavendish in last year's Tour of Britain final stage when riding for An Post Chain Reaction was the crucial moment of his career to date.

"Finishing second to Cavendish is what really helped me get the contract. It was a case of would I give up cycling, go back to college and get a degree or something. If I didn't make it that year, I knew I was getting older and it was going to be harder to get a team.

"It was make or break. The team needed a sprinter and I knew I was in the shop window. Thankfully they were impressed when I got a few results."

Bennett has gone from seeking a full-time professional contract to being his team's lead sprinter, and it's a challenge that he is relishing going forward.

"It's a new experience stepping in as the lead sprinter and the captain of the team in certain situations, but you learn how to deal with that pressure," he says. "I went into this year not knowing what to expect as a newly professional rider. I didn't really think I'd get so much support from the team.

"I was really delighted (to get the contract extension) because I had an extra year with the team anyway so it wasn't like they had to renew my contract but I'm really pleased that they wanted to keep me on."

Now that he has secured his ultimate goal in the paid ranks, his main priority is to build on his successful first season as a professional cyclist and like all young riders, his eyes are set on the biggest prize of all.

"It's a dream come true and I don't have to worry about performing to get a contract now. I can relax and let it flow and it's a bit easier to get results when you're not under that kind of pressure.

"The Tour de France is the biggest race in the world and it's the one we want to go for so hopefully we'll be there next year."

Sam Bennett was speaking at the launch of 'Cooking with Chia for Dummies', which features 125 simple Chia-based recipes and is available from all good bookstores.

Irish Independent

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