Ben Healy dreaming big after taking over Sam Bennett’s Irish crown
20-year-old shares many similarities with Tour de France green jersey winner
Ben Healy of Trinity Racing celebrates after winning the Irish National Road Race Championships in Newcastle West, Co Limerick on Saturday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
They started out on a mountain bike and soon moved their talent to the road. Both had their breakthrough rides as teenagers and were gently encouraged by Martin O’Loughlin of Cycling Ireland. They’ve enjoyed some impressive stage wins recently but nothing compares to wearing the Irish champion jersey.
There are it seems several similarities already between Sam Bennett and Ben Healy. The sport has a history of lineage in this country too, although in this instance only one of them can also lay claim on Carrick-on-Suir, and Healy is the first to admit that Bennett’s achievements on the bike are for him still the stuff of dreams.
In dreams begin responsibilities, and having just turned 20, Healy is quickly taking on his own, succeeding Bennett as Irish senior road champion in Limerick at the weekend, which means he gets to wear the green stripe on his racing jersey for the next year.
“It still feels pretty surreal, definitely one of my best rides I’ve ever done, incredible really,” says Healy, reflecting on his first senior win, which in the end saw him turn the 155km race into a time-trial; he won by over two and a half minutes from seasoned professional Nicolas Roche, and was also the outright fastest in Thursday’s individual time-trial.
“It’s come at a nice time, really seems like Irish cycling is going into a good period. Nicolas and I were having a coffee together last week, and people were coming up to us, asking about Sam. And of course he’s had such an incredible year, it would be impossible for me to show the jersey off like he has. I’ll certainly try to do the best I can, in the races where I’m wearing it, and if I can get my hands in the air a few times in the jersey, that would be incredible.”
Despite the extended 2020 season that will likely be next year, Healy’s racing calendar done for now, given he still competes largely in under-23 races. As if on cue there, Healy won the last stage of the Ronde de l’Isard in France, considered one of the top under-23 races in the world, the same day as Bennett won the last stage of the Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées. Last year, Healy was also the youngest ever winner of a stage of the Tour de l’Avenir.
There are differences between the two, not least the fact Healy was born and still lives at home in Stourbridge, about 10 miles west of Birmingham, and only began his cycling career with Ireland in the summer of 2018, winning the junior time-trial title. With a grandparent from Waterford and Cork, his family fully supported the move, and it’s already paid dividends.
“My dad [Brian Healy] was big into his bike, always racing, so I was inspired by him really, even though he never pushed it on me, it was something I wanted to do, and always loved it. I was originally part of the GB development academy for mountain biking, at under-16, then got dropped from that, and starting riding on the road for a junior team, Zappi, and started performing pretty well there.
“That’s when I wanted to declare for Ireland, because I wanted the opportunity to race more, and it was something the family really, really supported. Once I got on to Martin [O’Loughlin] it just went from there, he showed me the way really.”
Healy spent this season with Trinity Racing in the UK, still a long way off the World Tour, although his victories at the weekend haven’t gone unnoticed: “There are some discussions at the moment, what’s best for my development really. Stepping up to a World Tour team next year might be too much of a jump for me, right now. I want to make sure I can be the best rider I can be, before I go into the World Tour.
“It still seems strange to call myself professional, but I am getting to that stage, getting a little bit of a salary. And I’m still learning what I’m best at. It’s just about going into every race with the intention to win, no matter what it is.
“Where my success comes is where I’ll end up focusing, but it’s exciting to have some options. And I’m really proud to represent this jersey, and thankful for the opportunity Cycling Ireland has given me, really, I wouldn’t be in this position without them.”