La Rochelle is well known to the French students of the British Isles, the coastal city featuring prominently as a location where you practice asking where the piscine and train station are.
Sam Bennett didn’t need directions to the finish line, though, as the Irishman put in a textbook dash for the line to take his first-ever stage win.
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He had learned his lesson from the previous misfires, maybe nerves getting the better of him after moving away from Bora-Hansgrohe in order to get opportunities to target Tour de France stage wins.
“I don’t think it’s hit me. You dream of it and you never think it’ll happen,” Bennett said, not bothering to try and hold back the tears in his flash interview after the stage.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to be a crybaby.”
The 29-year-old had his cap pulled down low on the podium, still overwhelmed. He’d pulled himself together in time for the press conference, but still the elated disbelief that he’d finally won a Tour de France stage lingered.
“It was really weird because everything seemed to go too perfect at the end that I was almost in shock 50m from the line. I just couldn’t believe it had happened and I thought maybe there was one person who got by me,” Bennett explained.
“Then after the line, it just didn’t hit me.”
Bennett won stages of the Giro d’Italia in 2018, followed by Vuelta a España stage victories in 2019. It took forcing a move from Bora-Hansgrohe to Deceuninck – Quick-Step to allow him to finally fulfill his Tour de France dream and complete his set of Grand Tour stage wins.
“You wait so many years for this to happen and then to get this opportunity…oof…it took a while for it to really sink in. It’s just a relief when so many great sprinters have passed through this team and delivered.
“I needed this, to come to the Tour de France and deliver for this team after Deceuninck and Patrick gave me this amazing opportunity I really wanted to deliver for them, and my team-mates who were perfect today. I want to thank everybody, the mechanics, the soigneurs…”
Bennett let his sprint out of the bottle later this time; Michael Mørkøv providing him the “perfect lead-out”, the Dane being the genie granting wishes to Deceuninck – Quick-Step sprinters over the years.
However, the confidence knock of three sprints without a victory had clearly been getting to Bennett, who said he was trying not to even think about the possibility he could be beaten again, his legs having recovered after he’d felt them wobble in the closing kilometres.
“I didn’t think about it and I tried not to think about it. In the moment I should have thrown my bike harder at the line because the race is too big to make a stupid mistake but I also wanted to celebrate my first Tour de France win,” Bennett said.
“A couple of kilometres back my legs were a bit dead, my team were doing fantastic work but being in the wind all day takes its toll. But when I went I knew my legs were good… there’s always that chance you can lose but in the moment you just have to go.”
An added bonus of the stage win was a ton of points in the green jersey competition, which saw Bennett usurp his old team-mate Peter Sagan once more.
He hadn’t really thought much of the green jersey before finding himself in it on stage five and liking the way it fit.
The sprinter says his three dream wins have always been Milan – San Remo, the World Championships and a Tour stage win on the Champs-Élysées, but if he had to pick between standing on the podium in Paris in two weeks time with either the stage win or green jersey?
“I don’t know, I always say my three dream wins would be San Remo, Champs-Élysées, and World Champs, they would be my three favourite races to try and win but I never really thought about the green until I was wearing it and it’s something special to wear it,” Bennett said.
“I think for this year I’d give up Champs… oh jeez actually I don’t know!” he exclaimed.
“Look, whatever comes my way I’ll be happy to take.”