Sam Bennett’s exit from Tour de France sparks tension in his team

Team Deceuninck manager Patrick Lefevere questions Irish rider’s mindset after injury

Sam Bennett rides during the 18th stage of the Tour de France, between Meribel and La Roche sur Foron, on September 17th, 2020. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images

Sam Bennett rides during the 18th stage of the Tour de France, between Meribel and La Roche sur Foron, on September 17th, 2020. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images

 

The news that Sam Bennett will miss this year’s Tour de France through injury came as a big disappointment for Irish cycling fans, and indeed supporters around the world, but it is also a big blow to Bennett himself. The Carrick-on-Suir rider was the most notable absentee from the Tour line-up announced by his Deceuninck-QuickStep team on Monday, with Bennett explaining that a knee problem prevented him from taking part.

His disappointment at missing the Tour will be amplified by his strong showing last year, the seven victories he clocked up so far in 2021 and by the fact that he is leaving his current squad at the end of the season. While he has already been linked to a possible move back to his former team Bora-Hansgrohe and to Ineos Grenadiers, more Tour success this year would have further enhanced his earning potential.

Unless a contract for next season has already been finalised, missing the Tour will likely impact the number of offers he receives from other teams. He won two stages plus the green jersey in last year’s race and, without injury, would have started the Tour this Saturday as arguably the top favourite for the sprints.

He is instead travelling to Belgium for a full assessment of his injury.

“Sometimes life throws you a curveball,” he said in a statement. “A couple of weeks ago in training I had a really minor injury that I simply couldn’t heal in time to be at my best for this year’s Tour de France. Myself and the team believed I would be ready in time but it became clear in the last few days that I wouldn’t be at the level I always strive to be at to win bunch sprints at the biggest race in the world.

‘Keep fighting’

“This season has so much more to offer me so I’m going to keep fighting and, most importantly, race without any injury risk, in the coming weeks and months.

“Needless to say, I’m very disappointed to not be able to defend my green jersey at this year’s Tour de France.”

It is understood that Bennett’s gears slipped while training and he banged his knee off his handlebars. Coincidentally, Stephen Roche suffered the same mishap during the 1989 Tour de France and was forced to withdraw from the race as a result.

Bennett’s frustration will be exacerbated by some tactless criticism of him from the Deceuninck-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere on Monday. Speaking to the Belgian media outlet Sporza, Lefevere questioned the Irish rider’s mindset. “When Bennett called that he was injured and that he needed care and rest, we already felt the mood that he was not going to be ready for the Tour,” he said.

“Three days before the Tour of Belgium, he bumped his knee against his handlebars. He didn’t tell us anything about that. When he arrived [to the race], we sent him home again. Then it was a yes-no game: to train or not to train?

“I cannot prove that he does not have knee pain, but I am starting to think more and more that it is more fear of failure than just pain.”

High expectations

Given Bennett’s known own high expectations of himself, and considering the success of last year’s Tour plus his seven wins thus far this season, the public slating was questioned by some on Monday. Lefevere is an outspoken character, and is known to be frustrated that he cannot match the salary offers made to Bennett by other teams for next year.

It is not yet clear how long Bennett will be out of competition. The hilly nature of the Tokyo 2020 road race course had already made his selection for the Olympics a long shot. However, depending on the speed of his recovery from injury, he could potentially target stage victories in the Vuelta a España, which begins on Saturday August 14th.

Bennett won stage four of the race last year, adding to two stage victories there in 2019.

Thus far, Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) is the only Irish rider confirmed for the Tour. He won a stage in last month’s Giro d’Italia and finished a solid 10th overall. His first cousin Nicolas Roche is a possible starter, but the Team DSM line-up is yet to be announced.

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