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Revealed: Sam Bennett scoops Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year award

2020 Tour de Force fulfilled a lifelong dream for boy from Carrick who’s hoping to repeat some of that glory on the road this year


Sam Bennett with his Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year award at his home in Monaco.

Sam Bennett with his Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year award at his home in Monaco.

Sam Bennett with his Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year award at his home in Monaco.

A standard-issue face mask could barely conceal a smile as wide as the Champs-Élysées.

Sam Bennett was standing on the Tour de France podium but this was the scene from his childhood dreams; a bouquet of flowers in the left hand, an emerald green glass vase in his right, the setting perfectly framed by the blur of the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. Sam Bennett, now a two-time stage winner of the Tour de France and green jersey champion, the former a life-long ambition, the latter something beyond.

“It took me so long to get here. I’m just going to enjoy every moment of it,” Bennett enthused that Sunday in Paris.

And that infectious smile has stretched all the way into 2021. When it’s taken so long to land the big one, you don’t let the significance slip easily through your fingers.


“I left home when I was 18 and, I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but to follow my dreams, and it was never an overnight success,” said Bennett from his Monaco base last week as he received his award as Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year in association with The Croke Park Hotel.

“There were so many hard years that went into it, so many years of injuries and such a slow progression, there was so many people who helped me along the journey. And without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Despite his steady ascent up the professional ranks over a dozen years, that ultimate dream remained frustratingly out of his reach for so long.

And perhaps we need to rewind 12 days before Paris to the sunshine of Ile de Re, the scene of the first of his two Tour stage wins, to fully appreciate the road Bennett had travelled and the doubts he had to overcome.

Two previous visits to the Tour, in 2015 and 2016, had left him beaten up and empty-handed, but after stage wins at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana in the years since, Bennett was riding Le Grand Boucle with expectations rather than hope for the first time.

His Deceuninck-QuickStep team, the Belgium powerhouse who endured a protracted saga to sign him in December 2019, expected results from their marquee sprinter. And until that day on the west coast of France, when a throw of the bike on the line edged out Aussie fastman Caleb Ewan, there would always be doubts.

“You know, you dream of it and you never think it will happen,” Bennett said that day, his face a stream of tears. “And then it does, and it did, and it took a while for it to hit me.

“Oh man . . .”

Oh man, indeed.

“I’d taken a few years away from the Tour de France to develop as a rider,” the 30-year-old told the Irish Independent last week. “And it was a target for so many years to go back, and to go back as Irish national champion and to represent (Ireland) with the jersey was a dream come through. And to actually get a stage there, I couldn’t believe it, I was a bag of emotion at the finish line and during my post-race interview,”

If that first stage win represented the end of a journey that was two decades in the making, the rest of the 2020 Tour developed into a quest in itself.

The green jersey was back on Bennett’s shoulders after Ile de Re, and now released from the pressure of breaking his Tour duck, his focus turned to keeping it all the way to Paris.

In the head-to-head points race with his former team-mate Peter Sagan, Bennett, whose victories and defeats are normally resolved in seconds, was now in the middle of a three-week thriller. Each stage brought a new plot twist, with the tactical riding for the intermediate sprint points and the ability to nurse his body over the mountains almost as important as the stage finishes.

At the intermediate sprint point on the final stage, Bennett finally secured an unassailable lead over Sagan, securing the green jersey and leaving him free to concentrate on the scene he dreamed of as a young boy cutting his teeth in the Bobby Power mountain league in the hills around Carrick-on-Suir.

It was just as he would have scripted, the cobbles under his wheels, the finish line straight ahead and that final burst of acceleration separating him from the other 200 riders, all wrapped up with an emphatic fist pump.

His victory in the Sportstar poll was as convincing as the stage finish in Paris. Perhaps, it was the raw emotion on display at Ile de Re or maybe it was the depth of his journey, but his story clearly resonated with the Irish public.

While there has been success at every rung of the ladder he has climbed, there had been missteps in between. His career was almost derailed before it began after being hit by a car near his home; the vehicle was written off and his career almost faced a similar diagnosis; his first Grand Tour, the 2015 Tour, started with a crash on stage one and finished with a battered Bennett quitting 15 stages later when his body broke down, and a toilet bowl filled with blood. And even when the victories started to roll, the pressure of delivering Grand Tour stage wins felt almost suffocating. But Bennett has learned to play the patient game and has reaped the rewards.

The goal for this year is to aim for that peak again.


“It was funny after the Tour I had a week of being on a high. After that week I hit a low and I was like, ‘oh man this might be my peak, this might be it, I might never do anything as big as this again’. But I think that it’s important to keep the focus, to go back and try and do the same thing and to repeat it. Because last year shows the capabilities are there.”

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