Sam Bennett as new Irish road race champion: 5 talking points

Posted on: July 1st, 2019

Ireland has had some great national men’s road race champions down the years. But having Sam Bennett in the Irish champion’s jersey really does tick all the boxes (Photo: Caroline Kerley)

Sam Bennett as Irish Champ: 5 talking points

He deserves it

Sam Bennett hasn’t always had it easy; a crash with a motorist as a younger rider caused injuries that plagued his career. Yet he persisted for years when there was no money in it for him.

When he finally got his chance with NetApp-Endura he really seized it; winning smaller races at first and continuing to build.

He went into his first Tour de France after a trouble-hit preparation and rode himself to a standstill; pressing on even when he began urinating blood.

And when he crashed during his second Tour ride he battled all the way to the finish despite breaking a finger in that stage 1 fall; one among a litany of injuries.

It’s easy now to assume raw talent has gotten him to where he is today and that it has all come easy to him.

But there has been a serious amount of perseverance down the years, often in difficult circumstances and when he couldn’t be sure major success would one day come of it.

People wanted him to win

There is no doubting that Bennett is a very popular rider. And without disrespecting any other Irish cyclist, especially those who rode the championships, a lot of people in Irish cycling wanted him to win.

When he pulled away with Eddie Dunbar it was clear one of them would take the title and either one would have been a fitting champion.

Sam Bennett limps home into Utah Beach during stage 1 of the 2016 Tour. His career is flying at the moment, but there have been very hard times in the past.

Bennett is arguably the best sprinter in the world right now and Dunbar is one of the most exciting emerging climbers.

They are of the Irish scene, having come up through local club races and open races on the amateur circuit in Ireland. And most in the Irish cycling community have watched both develop since they were kids.

It seemed somehow fitting then that either Bennett or Dunbar would win; though Conor Dunne and Ryan Mullen have also been two great champions for Ireland and may be again in the years ahead.

It meant a lot to him

Anyone who saw Bennett come up the finishing straight in Derry and continually check around to see where Eddie Dunbar was could see there was almost disbelief in his celebration.

This was a title he very obviously really wanted to win. Indeed, he seemed too excited and stunned to perform his usually two-armed victory salute, or to even punch the air with one hand on the steep finish.

His celebration suggested he’d just won a race he feared he never would and one that meant a great deal to him.

Immediately afterwards he spoke of it being an emotional moment in his career and of doing the jersey proud. Those were clearly the words of a man who really wanted the title and who holds it in very high esteem.

He should win races in the jersey

Having won a lot of races in his career already, Bennett is having his most prolific season to date; eight wins and counting.

And while sprinting is all about form and momentum, it seems certain Bennett should win more big races soon.

Ireland has punched above its weight – at times, and with long periods between star riders – and it will be great to see the Irish champion’s jersey on the shoulders of a riding taking a big win.

Sam Bennett in the champion’s jersey in Derry with Eddie Dunbar and Ryan Mullen. It will be interesting to see what Bora-hansgrohe does with the jersey (Photo: Sean Rowe)

The domestic scene is going through testing times; the mothballing of Rás Tailteann just one in a series of races being hit by what continue to be financially testing times in Ireland.

And while having one of our very small number of star riders in the jersey doesn’t disguise the problems at home, it is something to cheer on in what are uncertain times for Irish cycling.

He’ll be a great champion

Just like Conor Dunne has been for the past 12 months, Sam Bennett is a champion Irish cycling can stand over.

His ability on the bike aside, he’s a great ambassador for Ireland and Irish cycling everywhere he goes. He seems modest in interviews after big wins and doesn’t seem to take his privileged position for granted.

Even when left out of the Bora-hansgrohe team for the Giro, he expressed his disappointment in very clear terms, as was his right, but he never disrespected the team.