Sam Bennett’s season may be over in wake of Covid-19

‘I was always pushing to get back, but I think for a performance athlete Covid goes a lot deeper than you really think’

Sam Bennett is back training post-Covid but the double Vuelta a España stage winner has said that things have been more complicated than he initially expected.

The Carrick-on-Suir cyclist was forced to withdraw from the Vuelta the morning of the stage 10 time-trial on September 30th, with a positive antigen test being confirmed by a PCR result minutes before his scheduled start.

He spent nearly a week isolating with mild symptoms, with a sore throat being later followed by a light cough. However, his initial optimism about a rapid return to training and racing hasn’t panned out.

“The recovery is kind of a strange one, because initially I didn’t feel bad at all,” he told The Irish Times. “After I think eight days, I had a negative PCR and went to get all the heart checks, get the lungs checked, got the blood test. I got the all-clear.


“The problem was that I started back training and the energy was just not there. I tried three hours, but I was completely out of it after two hours. I did a three and half [hour ride], then I had to take another two, three days off.

“I tried it again today, just for an hour and half, to see how it is. There is an improvement, but I’ll have to see how I react tomorrow.”

Bennett’s difficulties are in contrast with his initial optimism that he would be racing again soon. He said he initially didn’t want to withdraw from the Vuelta as his symptoms were mild, but race rules dictated that riders must exit if their viral load is over a certain level. His Bora-Hansgrohe squad was also being careful.

“The team were always cautious, saying you have to respect the virus,” he said.

Bennett missed much of 2021 due to a knee injury. Having returned to his best form in over a year in the Vuelta, he was in a rush to resume competition. He initially hoped to ride the Tour of Britain, even though it started just five days after his positive test.

“I was saying that about the Tour of Britain to the team, and they were like, ‘relax, give it time’. I was doing antigen tests and they were always positive,” he explained. “Then the start of the Tour of Britain passed by. Then the following week I was like, maybe Quebec [the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec on September 9th], but time passed and the [medical] tests weren’t done.”

Bennett’s Bora-hansgrohe team has a careful recovery protocol for its riders, requiring them to undergo a number of health checks once they are again testing negative for the virus. These checks are more detailed for those who had severe symptoms, but even for those with mild symptoms the examinations are important ones.

They comprise at a minimum an ECG and a blood test, with riders only given a green light to resume to training if those results are clear. If they experience any symptoms during the first days of training they may be required to undergo more tests; otherwise they can return to competition after 10 days.

Bennett has had to be patient. “I was always pushing to get back, but I think for a performance athlete Covid goes a lot deeper than you really think,” he said. “The moment you want a bit of performance out of the body, it is not the same. It is not there. Unfortunately you have to respect it, that’s the way it is. It is a pity because I was just getting going. But that’s sport. It is unfortunate you lose so much so quick.”

The cycling season ends in the coming weeks and he feels the clock ticking.

“If I don’t get back [to full training] this week, we are going to have to decide if I will call it quits for this season and then focus on next year, because realistically then you are just losing so much time off the bike. Or do we try to keep pushing?

“Hopefully if the body gets right I can race again, because I’d really like to do another couple this year. If not then we will have to make a decision. I will just have to be patient for now and keep doing what I am doing.”

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

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