‘I never thought I’d be good enough’ – Sam Bennett clinches Tour de France green jersey

Irish man takes final stage to clinch green jersey in climactic finish to one of best ever Tours

It ended between the evening sun and the magic light on the Champs-Élysées with the image of Sam Bennett suitably attired in all green, his right arm already aloft in one of the most magnificent final stage victories in Tour de France history.

In the past only four riders had managed to win the final stage here while wearing the green jersey. Bennett joined that properly elite group and held back none of his delight after finishing the near perfect bike length ahead of reigning world champion Mads Pedersen from Denmark, with his closest rival for the green jersey Peter Sagan from Slovakia in third.

So after three weeks, 21 stages, 58,000m of climbing and 3,482km of road, unquestionably among the hardest Tours in history – probably one of the best – the race reached Paris, two months later than originally planned, with an Irish rider winning one of the most coveted jerseys in cycling for the first time since Seán Kelly last won it here 31 years ago – both riders neatly traced back to the small town of Carrick-on-Suir.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am, the green jersey, the Champs-Élysées, the world championships of sprinting,” said Bennett, who reached 66.1km/h in the last 100m. “I never thought I’d ever be able to win this stage, and to do it in green is so special, and for my dream team, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, the way the boys rode all, they were fantastic, it’s just such an amazing feeling.


“All that suffering during the mountains, so worth it now. All the years trying to come up, trying to make it, it took me so long to get here, I’m just going to enjoy every moment of it.”

Unlike the momentary doubt after his first stage 10 win on the Île de Ré, there was no second-guessing here: although holding back the tears this time, there was no disguising his pride either; winning the final sprint in green a feat Sagan nor indeed Kelly could manage.

Indeed Bennett said he spent the last three weeks trying not to think about it, and when it actually happened he admitted it surpassed his own expectations: “If you told me this, three weeks, no, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s a dream I never really knew I had, because I never thought I’d be good enough to do it, never thought I’d be strong enough to do it.

“So yeah, super proud, a very special moment in my career. I can’t compare this green jersey race to other years, because I wasn’t in it, I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t fully understand what’s involved. It might be my only chance to ever do it, so pretty proud of it.”

Sunday’s final stage left only 122km to ride, less than half of that to Paris, then eight laps of the Champs-Elysées – Bennett already looking safe in green and riding a custom-painted green Specialized racing bike. Winning another 50 points for the stage win, Bennett finished with a grand total of 380 points to Sagan’s 284, the third-placed Italian Matteo Trentin on 260.

It’s proved one of the more memorable Tours in history for a variety of reasons, not least Bennett’s breaking seven-time champion Sagan’s grip on the green jersey. Indeed that green jersey, which Bennett first wore on stage five and six, won back on stage 10, then held for the last 11 stages – has arguably been the hardest-fought battle for that prize too in recent years.

Dan Martin, who started with a back injury, still finished 41st overall, while Nicolas Roche, riding in his 10th Tour, was 64th.

Tadej Pogacar will wake up on Monday, his 22nd birthday, as the youngest winner of the race in postwar history. That was after a dramatic change in the final battle for the yellow jersey in Saturday's time trial between two Slovenians who had been so close throughout the three weeks of the Tour. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), known for his prowess against the clock, conceded the 57-second lead he held over his compatriot Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), who became the first Slovenian Tour winner, by 59 seconds, top of the white jersey and polka dot standings too.

Bennett’s special place in Tour history was already twofold: only the sixth Irish rider in the 107 editions of the race to win a stage, he also became only the second Irish rider, after Shay Elliott, to win a stage in all three Grand Tours – having already won three in the 2018 Giro d’Italia, and two stages in the 2019 Vuelta a España.

Now, the first to win in green on the Champs-Élysées – and possibly not for the last time either.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics