The Sam Bennett Interview: “I had to work so hard to...

After nearly two decades of trying, Sam Bennett became an overnight success when he sprinted to victory at the end of the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysées just over a month ago.

An emotional interview after his first stage win in Ile de Ré thrilled the Irish audience. The Carrick-On-Suir native’s second stage win and overall victory in the Tour’s points competition for the green jersey brought a new level of fame at home and abroad.

Interview requests from radio shows, television and print kept him busy for almost a week after that, but he was back on the road to success last Friday when he scored another Grand Tour stage win, the eighth of his career, on the fourth stage of the Vuelta Espana. where he spoke on today’s first day of rest.

“It just exploded at home,” said Bennett of the attention he received after the tour.

“It’s crazy. I’ve raced against all of these guys before, I’ve won stages on other Grand Tours that are just as difficult to win, but however people recognize the tour, it just seems to be on a different scale.

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Ireland’s Sam Bennett Aims to Build on Big Successes of 2020 (Bob Martin / Prudential)

Ireland’s Sam Bennett Aims to Build on Big Successes of 2020 (Bob Martin / Prudential)

“In some ways it was easier for me because after that I went straight to Monaco so no one would ring the doorbell, but I had online interviews for five or six days and stuff after that and couldn’t relax at all. It was all gone. ”

The constant media attention that followed his touring success could have convinced the likable sprinter that he finally made it, but Bennett knows better than anyone that Tipperary has come a long way and he’s not on his laurels yet wanted to rest.

“The thing is … I’ve had injuries for so many years and had to work so hard to get here that I don’t want to miss an opportunity,” he says of his decision to do his second Grand Tour of the year, “he says .

“Also, I’ve just turned 30 and as a sprinter that’s a number you don’t want to see because you’re very close to where you’re starting to slow down. So it definitely wasn’t like I had won the tour so I can put my feet up now. I have to take every opportunity because I appreciate what I have now.

“I think if I got there when I was younger, without all the ups and downs that I had and things had gotten easy, a lot of it would be tossed aside, but even after (disappointing drives in) Ghent- I was very angry with Wevelgem and Scheldeprijs.

“There would never be a case of going on vacation after the tour and doing nothing for the rest of the year. The following week there was a bit of relaxation to overcome and reset the kind of mental stress, ”but it was all calculated. ”

These calculations included the likelihood that Covid-19 would allow the Vuelta to end in Madrid on Sunday, and Bennett and his team took no chances and saw stage four on Friday as their first chance for victory.

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Sam Bennett celebrated his victory in the green jersey of the Tour de France last month. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Bennett celebrated his victory in the green jersey of the Tour de France last month. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Bennett celebrated his victory in the green jersey of the Tour de France last month. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Bennett celebrated his victory in the green jersey of the Tour de France last month. Photo: Getty Images

“We knew there would be very few options here,” says Bennett. “And we don’t know how long this race will last either. Everything is fine right now, but you just don’t know when it might stop. We really wanted the first stage win, so at least we’d do it. “Get one,” stresses Bennett.

Even after his Deceunick Quickstep team had taken control over the last few kilometers, an early sprint by Jasper Philipsen from the United Arab Emirates would have caught Bennett almost 300 meters from the finish.

“When Philipsen jumped, I said, ‘Oh man, he’s gone!’ It was so explosive out of the corner that I didn’t really think I could catch it, but I had to keep going, trying to get into its slipstream. It was a little relief to win early, “he says.

His first stage win on the Vuelta last year coincided with the red jersey of overall leader Nicolas Roche. That year, Bennett’s victory came a day after another Irishman, Dan Martin, took the third stage victory. Since then, Martin has moved up to third place overall and after a few years of injuries seems to be a serious competitor again.

“It’s great to see Dan win again,” says Bennett.

“I think his feelings afterwards showed how much struggle he had to get this victory. It’s been two years since he won the Tour stage … that’s a long time for a winner like Dan, but he’s in fantastic shape.

“I’m sure the green jersey is something he can choose here. The points here are the same for a mountaintop finish as they are for sprint stages. There is no chance for me, but for him… I wouldn’t. ”I am not even surprised if Dan won the Vuelta. He’s in really good shape.

“I think Dan could win this year’s Vuelta. I think he used the tour to get that base back and I think we’ll see old Dan Martin again. ”

Like much of 2020, this year’s Vuelta brought many changes with it. The colder temperatures in northern Spain start in October rather than the usual August.

“It would rain for the first few days, but it was still warm enough so it didn’t matter, but yesterday was a winter day,” recalls Bennett.

“At first it wasn’t that bad, but when we got higher into the mountains it was freezing. We had clear skies this morning on our rest day, but I was wearing winter gear like in Ireland.

“It’s cold and it’s probably just getting colder. It can be wet or cold as long as we don’t have them together. That will make it very difficult. ”

Another obvious change was the restrictions on movement due to the coronavirus.

“To be honest, it makes things a lot easier for the drivers,” he says. “You can’t sign autographs, you can’t take selfies and I think the general public understands that so you don’t have that distraction during the race. After that, the key is to stay in the bladder and wear a mask all the time and stay safe.

“Once you’re in that bubble and everyone gets tested, it’s fine. It worked on the Tour de France. The Giro seems like a different case where drivers got mixed up with the public in the hotels but the tour was fantastic.

“This Vuelta is really good again and they seem to be taking extra steps like cleaning barriers, where people have touched them and stuff. Once you start racing, not much really changes. We’re driving in the Middle East where no one is watching.

“The tour sometimes didn’t feel like the tour because nobody was there. Sometimes the atmosphere was just missing, but at the Champs Elysées I was so focused on the job that I didn’t even notice. “”

In fact, Bennett has been so focused on the job that he has not been home since April, and now that he is banned, he is unlikely to return to Carrick until Christmas.

“It’s fun, but because I can’t go home, I want to go home more. At the end of the season it would be nice to come back and see everyone who was part of the long journey that brought me to the Tour de France, “he says.

“I think that performing well on the Tour gave people something positive from cycling. I hope it inspires some of the younger generation. Hope it has helped people fall in love with the sport because it is a great sport to see.

“Maybe I’m biased, but I think it’s a great sport for people to get out and enjoy in any shape or form. We now have all of these greenways and there are many ways people can enjoy the bike, even with the lockdown. There are lots of little loops people can do.

“It’s great for the head to be out and get some fresh air, and I just want people to enjoy cycling again. Doing a few club spins in Carrick would be very nice over Christmas if I hide. ”She when I get back.

“I would love to come home and do my off-season there, do all the tourist stuff in Ireland, but that’s probably not really feasible right now.”

In a mountain-laden Vuelta, there are few options for fast men like Bennett, but he is hoping for another chance at glory in the coming stages.

“There may be a chance or two,” he says.

“When Madrid happens, it’s one that I really, really want. I have Rome, I have Paris and I missed Madrid last year when I finished second to Jakobsen. If I had got that, I would have won the last stage of “every Grand Tour. That would be pretty cool. ”

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