Sean Kelly on Bennett: “I think he definitely has got something…already you can see that the talent is there”
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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sean Kelly on Bennett: “I think he definitely has got something…already you can see that the talent is there”

by Shane Stokes at 5:35 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
An Post Chainreaction team chief believes Tour of Britain stage winner is ready to move to a bigger squad

Sam BennettAlthough he stands to lose the rider from his An Post Chainreaction team if a new contract is found, Sean Kelly has said he believes the time is right for Sam Bennett to step up a level, and that the young Irishman is capable of achieving big things in the sport.

The 22 year old rider has impressed at this year’s Tour of Britain, picking up second place behind Milan-Sanremo champion Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka) on stage two, and then three days later sticking with some of the race’s best climbers on the gruelling Caerphilly stage before sprinting home first to notch up a fine win.

The two results showed he has made good progression since last year, when he was fifth, sixth and ninth on stages.

“It’s time for him to move up,” Kelly told VeloNation this week, confirming that he expects Bennett to be offered a neo-pro deal from a new team.

“Last year we were hoping that we could get him to a level that people would start looking at him, there would be enquiries and maybe he could move on. We told him at the training camp in December that this was a vital year for him.

“We said, ‘you have to do something…if you don’t get results this year and move forward, it is going to be a bit more difficult. Now is the perfect time, I think he is at the right age to go onwards next year.”

While there is no news yet of a contract, VeloNation understands that he is on the radar of several teams and that his performances this week has increased their possible interest.

A former junior European champion, Bennett took top ten finishes in last year’s under 23 worlds and Europeans, despite having complications during the races which sapped some energy.

This year he won two stages in the An Post Rás, was first and second in the Kortemark and Izegem kermesses respectively, and also took fourth in the 1.1 Schaal Sels plus seventh in the similarly ranked Dutch Food Valley Classic.

His Tour of Britain results are better again, though, and show he’s finishing the year strongly.

“I think he definitely has got something…already you can see that the talent is there,” said Kelly, speaking about his long term prospects in the sport and what he could do. “I would reckon there is more there. Once a guy can get the confidence in himself, then you can go big steps quite quickly.

“His stage five performance was a great win, considering the way he did it. He is in a real good run of form. We could see it coming beforehand as he was going so well in Belgian races.”

Kelly knows Bennett well, both because the young rider is from the same hometown of Carrick on Suir, and also because he has been with Kelly’s Continental team for the past three seasons.

The former world number one believes that the success will have a lasting effect, and could be the catalyst for a lot more. “I think the victory is going to change a lot. I would think he will get confidence. If you look at the classification, and you consider the way the race went and the guys that he left behind [on Caerphilly – ed.], he knows he can get over climbs where the sprinters won’t do so. In those situations, with the sprint he has got, he can win,” he said.

“Also, for the big sprints, I think he was just lacking a bit of confidence. He needs to be a bit more aggressive. Last year in the worlds I feel that he should have been more aggressive in the sprint. He got bumped twice by others and he never made any reaction. He should have stuck an elbow out and given another shoulder back. If he had done that, he would have been in the top five or maybe on the podium.

“It is all about learning. In the last two years with Kurt [Bogaerts, the An Post Chainreaction Sean Kelly team manager], he has had a lot of work with Sam, trying to motivate him and getting the focus right. I think this form we are getting now is the fruit of that.

“When you get that sort of run, then you just never know how far a guy is going to go. He could take a lot of big steps from here.”

‘He is not only a sprinter, he can get over the climbs pretty well’

Sean KellyOne day before his victory, Bennett was told by Cycling Ireland that he had been selected to line out in the elite road race at the world championships in Florence. He joins team leaders Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin on the squad, as well as quadruple Irish champion Matt Brammeier.

While he is a strong sprinter, he is able to climb well when in good form, as stage five proved. He and Brammeier will be tasked with helping Roche and Martin next weekend, and it will be a very useful experience for him.

Kelly said that his rounded attributes on the bike are part genetics, part hard work. He said that conscious efforts have been made to not allow him to settle into the role of pure sprinter, but to dig in in other areas.

“Sam was always focussed on waiting for the sprint,” he said. “Kurt has already been on to him about that for two years at least. He says, ‘Sam – don’t think too much about your sprint. In the single day races, semi-Classics, the races we do in Belgium…don’t be calculating, just go up the road in the breakaway. That is what you have got to do at this stage of his career.’

“He is not only a sprinter, he can get over the climbs pretty well. Of course the bigger mountains are going to come later in his career, that is a different thing…we have to wait and see how he will develop.

“Before he was lacking the confidence of getting over the climbs. Hopefully his stage win will give him that morale boost, give him the confidence. When you see Cavendish and all the other sprinters get left behind and he is still there…it wasn’t a bunch of forty or fifty riders there at the finish in Caerphilly, it was a very select group.”

Bennett had hoped to test himself on the uphill finish yesterday, but had bike problems at the bottom of the final climb. He was tenth on today’s stage, being hampered by being too far back when the sprint began.

One stage remains in the race and he’ll try to do something there. After he won on stage five, he showed his hunger when he looked ahead to the remaining days and said that he wanted to try to achieve more.

“I will keep trying to get up on stages,” he said then. “I would love to get a big bunch gallop. I am delighted with today, but I’d love to win a big bunch gallop.”

Tomorrow’s final stage is expected to go down to a group sprint. Providing his team helps put him in the right place inside the final kilometre, he will have the opportunity to go head to head with the other fastmen in the race.

If that happens, Kelly is clear on the need for Bennett to defend his position in the run up to the final 200 metres. “If he comes up against to Cavendish or some of the good sprinters, he has to do that,” he said.

“I know if a guy has the wheel of his team you can’t go in and push him. But if somebody else comes in on you, you can’t allow them to push you off a wheel. That’s important, you have to be aggressive and defend your spot.

“That said, when you have the confidence you do get a variety of things with that. Being a bit more aggressive is probably one of those.”

Below: Kurt Bogaerts reacts to Bennett's stage win



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