Sam Bennett feature: Second on stage two of Tour of Britain, 22 year old is chasing a pro contract
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Monday, September 16, 2013

Sam Bennett feature: Second on stage two of Tour of Britain, 22 year old is chasing a pro contract

by Shane Stokes at 10:01 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour of Britain
Former European track champion building on stream of solid recent results

Sam BennettYoung Irish rider Sam Bennett took a step towards his goal of securing a pro contract on stage two of the Tour of Britain on Monday, powering clear of the peloton on the tough finishing climb in Kendal, leaving some of the sport’s biggest names behind and being beaten only by Milan-Sanremo winner Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka).

Passed by Ciolek inside the final 100 metres, the duo finished six seconds clear of the next riders and were, essentially, in a class of their own.

For Ciolek performances like that are to be expected; in addition to his Sanremo success, he’s also won races such a stage of the Vuelta a España in the past. For Bennett, though, the result is a confirmation of his promise. He’s long been seen as one of Ireland’s most talented young competitors, and is banging on the door of a big win.

Hailing from Carrick on Suir, the hometown of former world number one Sean Kelly, the 22 year old has competed at the Continental level with Kelly’s An Post Chainreaction team since 2011. Having spent three seasons there, he is now trying to secure his first full pro contract.

In going so close to winning the stage, Monday’s result should bring him to the attention of several teams. VeloNation understands that some squads are already keeping tabs on the former European junior points race champion, but nothing has been proposed as yet.

If he continues to ride as he did on Monday, though, it seems quite likely that he’ll get a pro deal. “The result gives me a lot of confidence,” he told this site. “I used to think I could only do a fast sprint, a bunch sprint with a lot of speed. I am surprised I could do a finish like that, I never knew I would be able to.

“I actually didn't think the climb was going to be that steep. It felt longer than it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be 400 metres, but felt way longer because we were going so slow up the gradient.

“I had the perfect leadout into the last corner with [An Post Chainreaction Sean Kelly team-mate Mark] McNally and Nicolas [Vereecken]. I think I might have gone a bit early because I didn’t know the finish. I didn’t actually know I got a gap. I went, then I just had to commit to it and kept going.”

Bennett looked back and saw Ciolek coming. Once the German bridged, the advantage was on his side and he seized the chance. “He kicked a second time, but I didn’t have another kick to answer,” Bennett said. “I did everything I could. I’d love to have won, you always want a bit more, but I’m delighted with a top three finish. Now let’s see what I can do in the days ahead.”

Building his level:

Sam BennettBennett was fifth, sixth and ninth on stages of the race last year and also seventh in the 2012 European road race championship plus tenth in the Under 23 world championship. He would have been in with a shout of a medal in the latter event but went offroad and almost fell on the final lap, then had to chase back on.

He used a lot of energy on the Cauberg to get back into position and when he went to open things up in the bunch sprint, had nothing left to give.

Things have continued to progress this year; after netting two stage wins in the 2.2 An Post Rás in May, he was seventh in the 1.1 Dutch Food Valley Classic and won the Kortemark Kermesse in August.

Earlier this month he was fourth in Schaal Sels and the Kernen Omloop Echt Susteren, plus second in the Izegem Koers kermesse. They are all good results, and have seen him finish ahead of riders such as Ciolek in some of the races.

“I was happy with fourth in the 1.1 [Schaal Sels – ed.]. I felt really strong, I had been in the breakaway and was aggressive,” he said, talking about a highlight. “I was happy to be able to do that. Also, my second place in the pro kermesse in Izegem was good. I was suffering really, really bad but I still rode aggressively. I was still able to pull off a result even though I was feeling the pinch.

“With the results I had in the last few weeks, I was confident,” he continued. “Last week I messed up my buildup a little as I had to pull out early from an amateur kermesse as I punctured and didn’t have a spare wheel. The day before, there was really bad rain so I only went out for an hour. I didn’t want to get sick. I was being careful.

“Everything was just out of my control, but while I didn’t do as much as I wanted before the Tour of Britain, I was fresh coming here.”

Bennett said that he felt “unbelievably cold” on Sunday’s opening stage and was the same on Monday’s race. Other riders have also felt the same and, like him, will hope that things pick up as the race continues. “I have more clothes on now than I did in the early season races, and I am far colder too,” he said, speaking about the tough climatic conditions the Tour of Britain has faced. “I feel like I am going bad but when I go to go, it is all there. Once you get into tempo and get warmed up again, it is okay.”

Ambitious for Tour of Britain results and worlds selection:

Sam BennettHaving ridden solidly in the race last year, Bennett has long identified the Tour of Britain as one of his key events for the second half of this season. Day one didn’t go to plan as he crashed approximately eight kilometres from the finish, being brought down by another rider.

While he wasn’t badly hurt, he rolled in almost two minutes back, his chances of a high stage and overall finish gone.

He made amends for the former on Monday, riding very well in the finale and going close to pulling off a big surprise. The timing was very good, given that the Irish world championship selectors were meeting late on Monday evening to decide who would be the fourth rider to join Nicolas Roche (Saxo Tinkoff), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) on the squad for the worlds.

The final decision on that is expected to be announced on Tuesday.

“I hope I get picked. It would be an absolute honour to ride for Ireland, I would do whatever I can for the team,” he said. “I would like to be picked with my recent results, but it is out of my control, really. I would absolutely love to ride.”

If he gets the nod, his recent results will be a big reason. He said that he is pleased with how things have been going. “This year has been pretty good. Just before the nationals I crashed and came down hard. That put me off a little bit,” he said. “I also changed coaches just before the Rás – it doesn’t just click, it takes a couple of months of settling in. But it is starting to pay off and the results are coming.”

Bennett is working with Neal Henderson, who also coaches the BMC Racing Team pro Taylor Phinney and Garmin-Sharp’s Rohan Dennis, and previously worked with Roman Kreuziger. He likes what he sees in the young rider.

“When I first started working with Sam this spring [in early May – ed.] I had him do a series of test efforts on the bike with his power meter, as well as had him send me all of his previous lab test results. I was really impressed by his 5-minute power, which is a good proxy for power at VO2Max,” said Henderson.

“If you start with that kind of big engine, then it’s easier to develop the ability to sustain a high threshold. The exciting part was, though, that Sam also has very good short term peak power and very good anaerobic capacity power as well – something he showed in Monday’s finish. With those tools to work with, I knew that he was definitely capable of putting up better results than he had recently been doing.

“I had Sam work on specific training efforts to improve his confidence heading into the season, and I wasn’t terribly surprised when he had first race win in 22 months at stage three of An Post Ras. The confidence he gained in winning stage eight there also helped put him in a good mental place to work from. Sam has been very committed to his training this season, and even though he had a rather hard crash in mid June at Boucles he recovered well and did the hard work training in July to get back good form for the end of the season. Monday definitely showed that he is capable of racing at a high level; I’m excited to see how the rest of Britain goes for him.”

So too is Bennett himself, who wants to build on Monday’s result.

“I would absolutely love a stage win,” he said, articulating his big goal. “If I could, it would be a dream result. I can’t be disappointed with today either. I’d love to get up in a bunch sprint if I could, it would be nice.

“I’ll take the race day by day. Every time I look at the profile of a finish, it is turning out a lot different than it has been on paper. So I will have to see.”

Pushing for a contract:

Sam bennettWhether or not he gets to ride the world championship road race, he has a busy end of season programme. His An Post Chainreaction Sean Kelly team has a number of 1.1 races that it will take part in, as well as the four day Circuit Franco Belge in October.

His goal is clear: “I am just trying to get as many results as possible and get my name out there,” he said, speaking about his search for a WorldTour or Pro Continental contract. “A lot of people are working behind the scenes. I don’t know what the outcome is yet…hopefully something will come.”

Henderson also hopes for the same. “I definitely believe that Sam is ready to move up to a bigger team and bigger races. He’s learned how to prepare well, even through adversity like his crash in June, and has the right capacities to compete with riders at the WorldTour level, from what I’ve seen.”

While he has enjoyed his three years with the An Post Chainreaction Sean Kelly team, he’s determined to keep progressing. His results seem good enough to fit in with what is expected at the next level, and he should continue improving into his 23rd year and beyond.

Bennett is clear in his belief that he is ready to step up a level. “I’m ready to do so, absolutely,” he said. “I used to look at this and maybe be a bit nervous. I wouldn’t have had so much confidence in my ability, but now I feel ready for anything that is thrown at me.

“I would definitely like to step up the plate and give it a good whack.”


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