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by Shane Stokes
June 27, 2014
Commenting after the NetApp Endura team named its nine for the Tour de France, Sam Bennett has said that he accepts the team’s decision to pass him over for the race and wishes the squad luck for the event. However the Irish sprinter is disappointed to miss out, saying that he had hoped to force his way onto the team by showing them that he was going well.
“I knew I wouldn’t be doing the Tour, but I thought that maybe if I got a few more results it would maybe help change it,” he told CyclingTips Thursday.
“But they picked what they think is the best possible team for the race, in terms of getting a stage win and a top ten overall. I think they did a good job with the selection. They are going in supporting Leo König. He is obviously the best rider on the team and they are going to support him. I wish them all the luck.”
Bennett’s sentiments are genuine, in terms of hoping the team does well, and he avoids any criticism of the decision. However his disappointment is clear in the tone of his voice; it is obvious he would have liked to have been part of the selection heading to the start in Leeds. He also believes he could have done something in the race.
“I don’t feel that my form was good in the first half of the season, but I feel it might be starting to come now,” he said. “I don’t know about a stage win but I definitely think I could have snuck a podium.”
Bennett turned pro this season with the team, earning a contract after winning a stage of the 2013 Tour of Britain with the An Post Chainreaction Sean Kelly team.
He quickly got up to speed in the pro peloton, winning the Clasica de Almeria in March, the Rund um Köln in April then the fifth stage of the Bayern Rundfahrt on June 1. And while he was left off the NetApp Endura team for the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour of Slovenia, he won the professional kermesse in Lede, Belgium, on Sunday.
His four wins make him the most successful on the team, in terms of the number of victories gained. NetApp Endura general manager Ralph Denk said that the decision to leave Bennett off the team for the Tour was a carefully considered one, and that there were two main reasons.
“Firstly, our leader for the GC Leo Koenig showed a great form recently. That made us confident to build our team at the Tour de France around him and to focus mainly on the GC,” he told CyclingTips.
“Secondly, we believe that a participation in this year’s Tour de France would come too early for Sam. Despite him being quite grown- up for his age, he is still young. He has been racing his first six months as a professional cyclist only. Obviously, I am more than satisfied with him being part of our team. But within the team management we have a responsibility for our riders that gives no space for any opportunistic short-term thinking.
“Our approach with Sam is much more long-term orientated. We want to build him up carefully and step-by- step. Compared to his last season, Sam raced a very intense program already and he did it very successfully.”
Bennett acknowledges that Denk and the others involved in team management are wary of letting him do too much, too soon.
“The team are trying to look after me as best as they can. They are looking towards the future and they think it is too much for me right now,” he said. “They want to develop me and for me to get stronger. So I have to respect their opinion also.
“Saying that, I feel super fresh at the minute. I want to race, but I don’t have a race for a while now. We will see how it goes. Hopefully it will benefit me towards the end of the season. The team are doing what they think is best and I respect their opinion.”
Bennett’s next race with the team will be the RideLondon Classic on August 10. Before his break from competition, he will line out in the Irish road race championships on Sunday. He’s been the country’s under 23 champion twice in the past, in 2010 and 2011, but is yet to medal in the Elite event.
He’d dearly like to take the title, but is pessimistic about his chances of doing so. The doubt is not due to his form – which he believes is good – but rather the success he has already had this year and the caution that his rivals will show in light of that.
“I have had the best season I have ever had so far. Everybody is just going to watch my wheel,” he said. “I am not going to be able to budge at all. It is more than likely that I will be marked out of it. I am going in open minded – if it happens it happens, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
“It would be absolutely amazing to wear the national champion’s kit. But I just know that I am not going to be able to budge. It is frustrating. I am not going to be able to move.”
All of Ireland’s top riders will take part, with the exception of Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff Saxo). Bennett believes that 2013 world scratch race champion Martyn Irvine (UnitedHealthcare) is the big favourite, but also tips multiple champion Matt Brammeier, who is attempting to win his fifth straight national title.
He also believes that two Irish-based riders, Damien Shaw and Bryan McCrystal of the Aquablue team, will be going well and that one of them could sneak clear and take a medal.
“I am definitely going to have to watch them,” he said. “Obviously I will give it my best lash, but I think a lot of people in the race are going to have the tactic, ‘watch Sam.’ If I don’t throw the head early on, we will see.”
After that, Bennett will do a big block of training in order to ensure that his shape is good for the second half of the season. With the RideLondon Classic taking place on August 10, he has a long wait before he pins on a number again. However he said that he may do his own thing prior to that, travelling back to his base in Belgium and doing some of the circuit races which will be held there.
“With four weeks without racing, you are going to miss the speed,” he said. “It will be a shock to the system, so it would be good to get a few kermesses in before I race again with the team so I am sharp and ready.”
If things go to plan, he’ll be in strong shape in the RideLondon Classic. The Tour of Britain is also a race he wants to ride and do well in; with stage placings of first, second and second last year, he knows what to expect and could well be one of the quickest riders in the race. “I would love to go back and try to win another stage,” he says.
It’s clear that he has no intention of sitting back and making do with his four wins thus far. He’s hungry for success and actually hopes to step things up on the standard he has set thus far.
“I am definitely motivated for the second part of the season,” he said. “I want to have a better half to the season than the first half, that’s for sure.”