Sam Bennett interview: Turning pro with NetApp Endura a big motivation, and so too thoughts of the Giro d’Italia in Ireland
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sam Bennett interview: Turning pro with NetApp Endura a big motivation, and so too thoughts of the Giro d’Italia in Ireland

by Shane Stokes at 6:53 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
Irish fastman hoping for strong form in 2014, and that new team is given a green light for Giro wildcard

Sam BennettConfirmed yesterday as signing a two year pro contract with the NetApp Endura team, the promising young Irish rider Sam Bennett has said that he is motivated to hit good form next season, to learn from the squad and hopefully to be part of the Giro d’Italia when it begins in Ireland.

NetApp Endura secured a wildcard invitation to the 2012 edition of the race and is pushing to do so again for 2014. Having an Irish rider on board can only be a plus for its chances, given that the Giro d’Italia will begin in Belfast and spend a total of three days on the island.

Days two and three in Belfast and Dublin are expected to be sprint finishes and with Bennett the fastest of the current Irish riders in bunch gallops, he is the best home chance for a high placing on those two stages.

“It would be awesome to do such a big race in your home country. It would definitely be a big motivation,” Bennett told VeloNation, speaking after the news of his contract was announced.

He said that the team made clear to him that it was aiming to do at least one Grand Tour in 2014. “They said if my form is good enough, that they will put me in. In other words, it is open to any of the riders on the team to get selected for the Grand Tours. They are obviously not going to put you in if the form isn’t there, so I am just going to have to go and try to have good form first.

“But if it all works out, it would be class to ride the Giro, and it would be cool to help the team get a result there.”

Bennett was riding with the An Post Chainreaction Sean Kelly team this year, having been part of the squad since the start of 2011. He’s a former junior European track champion, and last year took top ten finishes the under 23 worlds and European road championships, as well as fifth, sixth and ninth on stages of the Tour of Britain.

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.

Bennett was on NetApp Endura’s radar prior to the Tour of Britain, but it was his performance there which sealed the German team’s interest. He started well with second behind Milan-Sanremo champion Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka) on stage two, then three days later clocked up victory on the gruelling Caerphilly stage.

The latter result was significant, but so too the manner in which it was achieved. The stage took the riders twice over the tough Caerphilly climb and the gradient and pace there whittled the peloton down to just fifteen riders by the finish. Bennett made that selection, showing that he is more than just a fast finisher.

He then underlined his potential on the final stage when he finished second behind Mark Cavendish in London.

“The Tour of Britain was a big target for me and to be able to aim for a particular event and be really pinging for it was great for my confidence,” he said, looking back at what was a pivotal race in his push for a pro contract.

“There are so many of the top guys there – Cavendish, Viviani, Ciolek and Bradley Wiggins. The standard was so high and to be able to go in and compete with them was fantastic. I couldn’t really believe it.”

Bennett was visibly gaining confidence during the race and showed a more assertive side on the final stage when he sped up the inside of the peloton just before the final right hand bend, cornering sharply and moving his way in ahead of Cannondale’s Elia Viviani.

It was a manoeuvre which underlined his bike handling abilities and helped secure that runner-up slot behind Cavendish, but also led to a punch being thrown by the Italian after the finish. Bennett stood his ground; he’s got a quiet, unassuming character off the bike, but is aware that he has at times given way too easily in the past.

Kelly stated prior to the London finale that the young rider had to learn to defend his space, and he went out and proved he was able to do so.

“I really wanted the last stage, but I wasn’t quite able to get it. I was sick of being pushed around a bit in the bunch and I said enough is enough,” Bennett explained. “Whatever position I wanted I just went and took, regardless of how I got it.”

Kelly was pleased to see the new assertiveness, knowing that it will stand to him in the years ahead.

Persistence pays off:

Sam BennettBennett is from the same hometown of Carrick on Suir as the former world number one, and Kelly has long recognised the younger rider’s talent. He and the team showed faith in him when he was held back by injury, including the after effects of being hit by a car in December 2009 while out training.

“The team came along at the end of 2010,” said Bennett. “I was injured and they took me on board and brought me to the best physios. They always had belief in me, even though things happened and there were a lot of downs. They gave me the best opportunities they could.

“There was a bit of tough love at times but they got me to where I needed to be in the end. I would like to thank them, for sure.”

Bennett is still over at the team’s base in Belgium but will load up his car at some point this week and then begin the drive back to Ireland. He is moving on to a new chapter in his life, and is fired up by what is to come.

“I went over after the worlds to meet NetApp Endura in Berlin. They seemed really enthusiastic. They said that their leadout train is good but they were looking for another sprinter that could fill that position in some races,” he said.

“It was just a general meeting but it was really good. I was really impressed with the team. Even watching them in races all year, I was impressed by them and how professional they are. I am really happy to be going to them.”

VeloNation understands that several WorldTour teams such as Sky and Orica GreenEdge were also impressed in the rider, but that they had completed their signings for 2014 by the time Bennett proved what he could do with his Tour of Britain ride.

Still, even if a WorldTour deal would have been a big start to his career, it can be argued that he may have better opportunities with his future setup. He would likely have found it hard to have opportunities on Sky, given that it is so focussed on Grand Tour performances.

Cavendish left after one season, after all, feeling that the team did not put enough emphasis on sprinting.

GreenEdge has its own established sprinting riders such as Matt Goss and Michael Matthews. While he would have learned a lot there, he would have been part of the leadout train for most of the races.

He’ll likely be handed personal opportunity quicker with the NetApp Endura team and so, in that sense, starting with a Pro Continental outfit now might prove to be better as a debut to the pro ranks.

Bennett is yet to get his race programme for 2014, and still needs to find his feet with the new setup. It’s early days yet and so it is unsurprising that his goals are general rather than specific at this point in time.

“Every year I always say I want to improve. I would definitely like to be more consistent in my form and also my results, if that is at all possible,” he said, when asked what he wanted to achieve in 2014.

“The first step is to get a good winter. I don’t think I had a good winter in the last few years with crashes and stuff. So I’ll start from there and work on from that.

“I’ve got the impression that I will have my own chances; that if I help the others, that I will maybe get opportunities of my own. I hope that is the case, but I will do whatever they tell me to do. They are the bosses…”

Right now, the important thing is to hone his condition and get ready for a big year ahead. He’s got some idea of what he is likely to do this winter, but things will be firmed up as time passes. “I’m not sure exactly what the plan is just yet,” he said. “I will probably do November at home in Ireland – usually the weather isn’t so bad, so it should work out. I know we have a team bonding camp in December, and I might also try to go to the An Post training camp that month to get more good weather training in.

“We then have a two week training camp in January, so that will also help to build my form.”

What’s clear is that Bennett is motivated by what he has done this year, by his impending step up to the pro level and by the opportunities he will have in 2014 and beyond. He turns 23 today, and he’s ready to move on to the next stage of his life.

“I am really excited, I can’t wait to start working with the team,” he said, thinking of what lies ahead. “The hard work starts now.”


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