Sam Bennett’s coach says team’s general classification ambitions behind Irishman’s Tour absence

Russian rider Aleksandr Vlasov’s strong showing during his first season with Bora-hansgrohe tipped the balance

Sam Bennett’s coach has explained the Bora-hansgrohe’s team decision not to select the 2020 double stage winner for this year’s Tour de France, explaining that the chance to go for the general classification with one of its riders was the biggest factor in the decision.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Dan Lorang said that Aleksandr Vlasov’s unexpectedly strong showing during his first season with the squad has made the team believe he can finish on the podium of the Tour. The race began in Copenhagen on Friday with an individual time-trial. Vlasov finished 21st, 31 seconds behind the stage winner Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl).

“Basically, we saw that Alex [Vlasov] is in really good shape this season,” Lorang said this week. “The races he won and also, for example, the Tour de Suisse [performance] … before he had to go out of the race [with Covid], he really showed that he’s up there.

“We see a high potential to go for a podium here in the Tour de France, and the Tour de France is the biggest race of the year. Sometimes you have to grab opportunities when they are there. That’s why we decided, okay, let’s try to go for that.”

Vlasov finished fourth in last year’s Giro d’Italia and has impressed in what is his first season with Bora-hansgrohe. He won the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the Tour de Romandie, and was leading the Tour de Suisse until he tested positive with Covid and had to leave the race.

Bennett won two stages plus the green jersey in the 2020 Tour de France. He missed last year’s race plus several months of the season due to a knee injury but has been building back up this season. He won the Eschborn-Frankfurt in early May, but had a quieter competitive appearance at the Baloise Belgium Tour in early June. His best showing was fourth on the final stage.

Lorang had previously stated that he was sure that Bennett would be back to 100 per cent by the time the Tour de France began. However, he said this week that the Tour of Belgium result was a factor in the team’s ultimate decision not to select him.

“If Sam would have already won a lot of races, I think then for sure the decision-making would have been to rethink [things]. But it’s like … you go with the best power possible.

“If you go for GC [general classification] strategy, then yeah, you need perhaps one rider more to help there. And if on the other side, you don’t really have the big success, it’s quite hard then to nominate Sam.

“But it was a really, really tough decision. It was not like, ‘yeah, it’s clear’. It was really a lot of discussions of pros and cons. But finally we have to say it’s not a decision against Sam, it’s more decision for GC, a decision for Alex. We couldn’t expect that [his 2022 season success] coming so fast.

“We will see after the Tour if it is the best decision or not, but for now it seems to be to be the best for Bora-hansgrohe.”

In other news, Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland have selected a strong squad to compete in the Games, which run from July 28th until August 8th.

The line-up comprises the new national women’s road-race champion Alice Sharpe, the new under-23 time-trial champion Darren Rafferty, the 2021 women’s time-trial champ Joanna Patterson, former national champion Lydia Boylan, Rás Tailteann stage winner Matthew Taggart, national cyclocross champion Chris McGlinchey, the promising track rider JB Murphy, and mountainbike specialist Cameron Orr, who was eighth in the Commonwealth Games MTB race four years ago at just 19 years of age.

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about cycling