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Sam Bennett: Continuation of Sean Kelly team vital for Irish cycling

Hunt for a new sponsor to succeed An Post now reaching a critical stage

Sam Bennett: “The sport is gaining popularity every year. A sponsor has nothing to lose but so much to gain.” Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

As the hunt continues for a new backer for the An Post Chainreaction team, a search that is quickly running out of time, top Irish sprinter Sam Bennett has spoken of the importance of the squad for his own career and for Irish cycling in general.

“I think a lot of young riders don’t realise how difficult life can be in the amateur ranks,” said Bennett.. “The support I got with An Post prepared me in the best possible way for the World Tour.

“When I was 18, I was hit by a car while out training and, as a result, I developed tendonitis in both knees among many other injuries. My career was over unless someone took me under their wing and supported me back to full strength. Kurt and Sean took on an injured rider and I’m forever grateful.”

Bogaerts told The Irish Times last week that had Bennett not been with an Irish team, it is unlikely he would have received the same backing. Had that been the case, his career may well have ended before it really began.

“I couldn’t believe the support I got from Kurt and Sean,” Bennett says, verifying what Bogaerts said.

“They arranged for me to see an amazing surgeon in Belgium who performed a key-hole procedure on both knees. They arranged for me to meet physiotherapists that I could never have afforded myself. More than anything, they didn’t give up on me. It was a long road but it’s been worth it.”

Stage win

Bennett rewarded their trust with a stage win in the 2013 Tour of Britain. That helped him secure a pro contract with the NetApp-Endura team, which is now the top-level Bora-hansgrohe squad.

The Carrick-on-Suir rider went on to take multiple pro wins, included amongst them six victories this year. He beat many of the top sprinters in the sport on Tuesday in the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro.

He also took a clutch of top-three stage finishes in this year’s Giro d’Italia, and believes taking stages in cycling’s Grand Tours is within his capabilities.

The An Post-Chainreaction team is hunting for a replacement backer after the Irish postal company said earlier this year that it was unable to continue its sponsorship due to tough financial circumstances.

Bogaerts said last week that he and Kelly are speaking to two companies, one Irish and one Spanish, but that time is quickly running out.

“I would tell a potential sponsor that cycling represents everything a company wants to be associated with: determination, hard-work, focus,” said Bennett. “A team sponsor is more than a name on a jersey – the brand identity is second to none.

“An Post have left the team this year but their association with Irish cycling won’t ever be forgotten. All in all, it’s a brilliant opportunity to showcase a brand and, in Ireland at the moment, everyone has a bike! The sport is gaining popularity every year. A sponsor has nothing to lose but so much to gain.”