Sam Bennett may need to find new team if opportunities dry up

Team-mate and fellow sprinter Peter Sagan may ride in the Giro d’Italia next year

Ireland’s Sam Bennett winning the seventh stage of the Giro d’Italia from Pizzo to Praia a Mare back in May. Photograph:  Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Ireland’s Sam Bennett winning the seventh stage of the Giro d’Italia from Pizzo to Praia a Mare back in May. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

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Sam Bennett ended the 2018 season on a high, basking in the satisfaction of the best season he has had thus far as a professional cyclist. The Carrick-on-Suir rider took three stages in the Giro d’Italia, his first wins in one of cycling’s three grand tours, and also won the one-day Rund um Koln event, plus three stages and the points classification in the Presidential Tour of Turkey.

Those successes marked him out as one of the top sprinters of 2018, but also pose an interesting question about his future. He has been part of the Bora-hansgrohe team structure for his entire pro career, racing there since he turned pro with its predecessor NetApp Endura in 2014.

Although he is valued by the team, Bennett’s dilemma relates to opportunity. The German squad also features triple world champion Peter Sagan, who recently extended until the end of 2021. While he and Bennett have a good working relationship, their similar sprinting skills mean that they are never sent to the same three-week races together.

Bennett has concentrated on the Giro d’Italia for the past two seasons, while Sagan has targeted the Tour de France. However the Slovakian has suggested he might ride both those events in 2019. Should that transpire, Bennett would be unlikely to take part in either and would have to instead focus on the late-season Vuelta a España.

Now 28 years of age, Bennett is coming into his prime years and, realistically, needs to start doing two grand tours a year to continue his development. Returning to the Tour de France and landing a stage win there is also part of a logical progression. However, with his current contract due to end at the end of next season and Sagan set to dominate the team’s sprint priorities beyond that, a move elsewhere may well prove best for his development.

Meanwhile, Irish national road race champion Conor Dunne’s search for a new pro team proved fruitful this week. He had been left stranded when the Irish pro squad Aqua Blue Sport collapsed at the end of August. Dunne told The Irish Times several weeks ago that he may have to give up the sport but, on Wednesday, he confirmed that he had a slot with the Israel Cycling Academy squad.

Aside from being the tallest rider in the pro peloton at six foot nine inches, Dunne is known for his aggressive riding and long-range moves. This compliments his new team perfectly, with the Pro Continental squad needing to show an active presence in races to secure and justify wildcard selections.

“I love being out front and racing aggressively,” said Dunne. “It is a way of expressing myself. However, at the same time, I feel I am a reliable team player and love participating in a victory in any small way and sharing that feeling with my team-mates. At ICA [Israel Cycling Academy], this is something I really want to continue doing and prove to be a reliable, strong and versatile member of ICA at any race we line up in.

“I also really believe in myself and have huge motivation going into next year to improve further and push myself more than ever. My own personal goal is to win a race in the national champion’s colours next year and really put some pressure on myself to achieve this.”

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