If Sam Bennett wins stage one of the Tour de France 2020 in Nice, he will be the first Irishman to wear the yellow jersey since Stephen Roche did in 1987.
It would be concerning if this fact wasn’t on the Deceuninck – Quick-Step sprinter’s mind these past few months, especially with the endless expanse of time that was the coronavirus lockdown.
“Yeah it’s been on my mind for the last few months, especially for the last week,” Bennett said before stage one. “It adds a bit of pressure but it’s a great opportunity and I’m happy to be here.”
The Belgian squad have once again brought a strong, versatile team to the French Grand Tour, mostly thanks to the mercurial talent of Julian Alaphilippe.
“I have very strong team-mates here, I have to put my trust in them, and in a way, whether it’s a breakaway or a bunch sprint we have a team who can do everything here.”
The Irishman is focused, the usual smiles and lightheartedness replaced by a concentration at the potentially life-changing task at hand.
“I think I can compete here, I just have to hope everything goes right. I’ve never sprinted for a potential win in the Tour de France so it’s something new, but it’s the same guys I always sprint against.”
Not even the coronavirus pandemic, which swirls around the Grand Départ in the shape of ubiquitous mask-wearing and lack of public access, can distract. As far as Bennett is concerned, he and his team-mates have tested negative and so now they race.
“I think at the minute we’ve all been tested and we’re clear so it’s not on our mind. We’re just here to race. We don’t think about it now, we’re inside our bubble, we do everything by the rules and we’re just looking at the stage now.”