Sam Bennett: ‘I have a fantastic opportunity at the Vuelta a España’

Irish rider sets out stall — to secure stage victory and take fight to opposition in pursuit of points jersey

Two days before the start of the Vuelta a España, Sam Bennett has said that he is determined to maintain a winning pattern he has set in major Tours in recent years.

The Carrick-On-Suir rider is lining out as part of the Bora-hansgrohe team and will be its protected sprinter in the race. “There is a bit of pressure to win a stage,” he said during a team conference on Wednesday. “Since 2018 whenever I’ve done a Grand Tour, I’ve always won at least one stage. So I’d like to keep that pattern. I suppose that’s more pressure from myself, rather than external pressure.”

Bennett last rode the race in 2020, coming to it weeks after taking two stage wins plus the green jersey in the Tour de France. He crossed the line first on two occasions in that Vuelta, but was relegated on stage nine for using his shoulder to fend off a rider who was trying to push in on his lead-out train. He had earlier won stage four.

Since then Bennett had a superb start to 2021, winning seven races, but missed that year’s Tour and each of the subsequent Grand Tours due to a knee injury and what has been a slower-than-expected return to top form. He has taken just one victory thus far this year but feels he is almost back on track.


“I definitely would like to get a stage here and really fight for the points jersey. But with those goals in mind as well, it’s an opportunity for me to really find my level again,” he said. “I can see the form is coming. It’s pretty good at the minute. But it’s been two years since my last Grand Tour and with all the time I’ve missed over the last year, you feel that. So [the goal is to] just find myself in this race as well, and try and get those wins.”

High hopes

Bennett will be supported by the team on the flatter stages, including fellow Irish man Ryan Mullen. The former Irish champion is part of Bennett’s sprint lead-out train, as are talented riders such as Danny Van Poppel, and not being able to make the most of that yet this season has been a source of frustration. Bennett hopes to put that right in the coming days and weeks.

“I think one of the hardest things for me this year is I have such an amazing opportunity here with the race programme, the team, the bikes and the riders around me,” he explained. “And the fact that I haven’t felt 100 per cent ready to take that opportunity. You don’t want to be ready when that opportunity is gone.

“I am delighted to have that support going into this race. It gives me confidence that I know the guys are going to get me there. I just hope I can finish the job.”

Well-drilled team

Sprinting success is largely determined by finishing speed, but so too a rider’s freshness and their position in the bunch heading into the final 200m. The 31-year-old explained how a strong and well-drilled team can maximise the chances of success.

“Having that support makes the job a lot easier, I think, keeping the legs coming into the final. And really just the consistency to get there. If you are in the right position more often, the chances are that eventually one will fall for you. It is, I suppose, a numbers game in that sense. I have a fantastic opportunity here with the boys.”

The Vuelta a España begins in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on Friday with a 23.3km team time trial. Stages two and three look likely to end in bunch sprints, presenting the first opportunities for Bennett. In all, at least six stages could go down to bunch gallops — something he will hope to make the most of.

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

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