Sam Bennett: “Would be fantastic to race the Tour de France”
In his debut season, the great Sean Kelly won four races. More than three decades later, his compatriot, Sam Bennett, who competed for Team An Post between 2011 and 2013, had a brilliant start as a neo-professional and scored all the wins of NetApp-Endura this season: Clasica de Almeria, Rund um Köln, and stage 5 of the Bayern Rundfahrt. His results made NetApp-Endura include him on the provisional list for the Tour de France, where the 23-year-old Irish rider could make his debut in a Grand Tour. If this will be the case or not, it remains to be seen in the coming weeks. No matter what happens, Sam Bennett is pleased with how things went so far in 2014 and is eager to get new wins and confirm his huge talent.
– Sam, did you expect to have such a good start to the season?
Not really. I wanted to continue from where I left off last year and get consistent results, and I really didn’t know what to expect as a first year pro. I’m very happy for the way things turned out, it’s fantastic to already have three wins. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season I would do that, I would have been more than happy. Now it’s funny, because I have these wins and I’m already looking for my next results.
– What was the most important win?
For my confidence, I have to say the Rund um Köln, because it was my first race in Germany this year and with a German team the expectations are always high. To be able to deal with this pressure and pull of a win after a late sprint was great for my confidence. Also, to be able to win again showed that my first win wasn’t a fluke and that I can win these races. My self-belief was up after the win in Köln and helped me a lot for my next races.
– How was the transition from a Continental to a Pro Continental team?
It wasn’t so hard, because with An Post I realized that if I won some races I’m ready to win other races. It was strange for me going to a new team, after three years with An Post. It was difficult to learn how the team works, to get settled in, but everybody was very nice and helpful, supportive all the time. When everything is so well organized, your job at the end of the day is much easier.
– Was there any particular moment you had to overcome since turning pro?
I think my first race – the Tour of Qatar – was the hardest we expected to have a bunch sprint in the first day, but it didn’t come to that, even if the team was ready to support me. To come in a Pro team and to lead that team brought a lot of pressure and it was difficult to manage that. The first stage in Qatar was very frustrating, but I’m over it now, my team mates always do a fantastic job, they support me 110%, and I got used to that now.
– What do you feel you still have to improve?
My strength, which is very important in order to get easier over the climbs and to get good results in stage races and in Grand Tours, where you have to be stronger day by day. With that strength you get to the finish line fresher. For me, the fresher I get to the finish, the quicker I am there. So my strength is the thing I really need to work on.
– How is your lead-out train after half a season?
At the beginning of the year it was something new for me to have a lead-out train, after a couple of seasons when I had to do the sprints on my own. We improved something with every race, as we had to adapt to each situation we faced. We had an excellent communication, all was very good in the last races and the pieces are coming together.
– Now you could race the Tour de France in your first season as a pro. What would this mean for you?
To go in the Tour de France would be fantastic. I don’t know the plans of the team, but I would love for this to happen. It would be great for my experience and further development, considering I could pick stages, instead of going to the battle each day. I’m not putting to much pressure and I can’t expect anything as a neo-pro, with so many good riders in the team. If it comes away, it comes away, if it doesn’t, I will keep my chin up and look forward to my next race, whatever it will be. Many pro cyclists want to ride the Tour de France, but don’t make it, so it would be a great thing if I will go there.
– You’re a very versatile rider: good in the sprint, on the climbs, and on the cobbles. What races would you like to win?
I think there are two categories here: what races I dream of winning and what races I have to be realistic I can win. I would certainly love to win some bunch sprints in some Grand Tours, that would be fantastic. I also think everybody dreams of becoming world champion, that would be another dream come true. Other goals are winning something like the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, or the sprint on the Champs-Élysées. If I could continue being consistent I would be content. It’s funny that when you get a little bit of success, you always want more, but it’s something perfectly natural and it shows that you can progress.