One week after he sprinted to a Tour of Qatar stage victory, Ireland's Sam Bennett has received confirmation that he will make his Tour de France debut this year with team Bora-Argon 18.
"This will be my first Tour de France," Bennett told Cycling Weekly ahead of the Tour of Oman stage three. "It's fantastic — it'll be great for the experience. I missed out on it last year. I'll be delighted to get my first start."
The 24-year-old from Sean Kelly's hometown of Carrick-on-Suir graduated to professional continental team NetApp-Endura last year. NetApp raced the 2014 Tour de France on a wildcard invitation, helping Leopold König, who is now with Sky, place seventh.
The German team, sponsored by Bora this year, earned one of the five wildcard spots for the Tour again and Bennett, thanks to his progression, should be apart of its nine-man team if everything goes to plan.
Bennett was born in Belgium and lived there for four years while his father played football. In Ireland, he started mountain biking and road racing, and it's there that he first encountered the name Sean Kelly.
"I didn't even know who Sean Kelly was until I got into cycling. Even at home it's the Sean Kelly Sports Centre, the Sean Kelly Square... It's just another name. But when I got older and realised what he'd accomplished, he became an idol," Bennett said.
"I started off with VC La Pomme in France for my second year senior. I had a few years of injuries, knee problems, it was frustrating, but then it clicked in 2013 with team An Post, and the Tour of Britain stage made it for me. I kept building since."
He subsequently won a Bayern-Rundfahrt stage, and one-day races Rund um Köln and the Clásica de Almería.
Bennett's win last week further enhanced his status in an international peloton that in Qatar and Oman includes Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick Step), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).
"That win was great for my morale. I've never had a result so early in the season and it was fantastic to win over such a competitive field. The number of my Twitter followers went up considerably!" he continued.
"And it's good for the team, as well, with the new sponsors, and for our jersey. You get more respect in the peloton. That's good and important for the team. It sets us well for the rest of the season."
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