Sam Bennett recently left Ireland and moved to Monaco. Not that there is anything unique or surprising about that; after all, in recent years, the principality has become home for so many professionals that together they could form a fearsome squad.
However, the relocation shows how far Bennett has come in two years. From being on the verge of quitting the sport after a series of injuries, the 24-year-old is now one of the most promising sprinting talents out there.
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“I was right on the brink,” said Bennett looking back at the summer of 2013. “I kept on getting injured: fit, sick, fit and so on. It went on for a number of years basically, since I started with [the then French amateur team] La Pomme Marseille [in 2007].
“In 2013, I had a knee problem. I had college deferred at home — ironically I was studying exercise and health studies — but cycling was what I wanted. So I just put everything I had into it over that summer, and everything just clicked from there.”
The break he needed came in the Tour of Britain: he nearly won on day two into Kendal — “we were told it wasn’t steep,” he recalled about that day’s nasty final kilometre — before he tamed two ascents of Caerphilly Mountain to claim victory three days later in Caerphilly.
Sealing the deal
“I started working with [American coach] Neal Henderson that May,” said Bennett. “He got to know me and I trained hard.
“From the end of July running up to the Tour of Britain, I targeted the race. If I wasn’t training or eating, I was in bed.
“I was tired every day until the day before the race, but the form was fantastic.”
Despite his problems, there was interest in Bennett from NetApp-Endura. Win a stage, the team’s management told him, and a contract for 2014 would follow.
“I knew what was on the line, and after winning the stage, I cried. I think I kept it away from the cameras,” he added.
Three wins followed last year: February’s Clasica de Almeria (this year’s edition was won by Mark Cavendish), the Rund um Köln and a stage of Bayern Rundfahrt. Bennett also placed fifth in Scheldeprijs, sixth in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic and 12th in Ghent-Wevelgem.
He opened this year’s account on February 13, when he won the final stage of this year’s Tour of Qatar. “I have high expectations of myself, although I don’t always meet them,” he said of his results.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to get them. So it’s always a relief when I do!”
NetApp’s Tour de France debut in 2014 was a relative success, as Leopold König placed seventh overall.
With the Czech rider now gracing the Team Sky colours, Bennett looks set to spearhead the German team — now rebranded as Bora-Argon 18 — in July.
Selection entails a quest for results, meaning Bennett will have a sprint lead-out train built around him at certain races.
“I’m not used to having this amount of support,” he said. “I’m used to finding my own way in the sprints.
“In the Tour of Qatar, we did a half lead-out on the final stage and that worked really well.
“I’m still finding my feet with the leadout train, timing and position. I’m sure it will come.”
This article was originally printed in the March 19, 2015 issue of Cycling Weekly