Sam Bennett’s season and time at Deceuninck-QuickStep appears to be over

Deceuninck-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere backtracks on earlier comments

Sam Bennett is looking forward to his return as team leader with Bora-hansgrohe. Photograph: David Stockman/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images

Sam Bennett is looking forward to his return as team leader with Bora-hansgrohe. Photograph: David Stockman/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images

 

Sam Bennett appears unlikely to compete again this season, with his Deceuninck-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere saying that the Irishman will undergo knee surgery and will need several months to recover.

Bennett joined the team prior to the 2020 season and impressed there, winning two stages plus the green jersey in that year’s Tour de France, taking a stage win in the Vuelta a España and also clocking up four other wins. This season started well with seven victories, but Bennett then injured his knee in a training accident and was forced to miss the Tour of Belgium.

He lingering injury meant he was then unable to ride the Tour de France, sparking off a series of critical comments by Lefevere in the media. Although he initially said that a knee injury like Bennett’s often requires knee surgery, he subsequently downplayed the problem.

In June he publicly questioned Bennett when speaking to the Belgian publication Sporza. “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.”

Lefevere also claimed that Bennett was mentally weak, and at the Tour de France lowered things a notch. “I have balls on my body, he doesn’t,” he said then.

However, in his latest weekly column in Het Nieuwsblad, he backtracked on his earlier questioning of the injury. “A recent scan shows he will need knee surgery, with a three to four month rehabilitation period,” he wrote. “He will therefore no longer race for our team.”

Lefevere has been under fire in recent days after an astonishing and inappropriate attack on Bennett. In his previous column in Het Nieuwsblad, he claimed Bennett was ‘the pinnacle of mental weakness’ and likened his pending return to his former Bora-hansgrohe team as ‘the same as women who still return home after domestic abuse’.

This led to a backlash, including criticism from an organisation representing abused women. On Saturday Lefevere apologised for his comments.

“Allow me to come back to my column from last week,” he wrote. “I’m not too big to admit that I’ve been thinking over my statements about Sam Bennett. My opinion of him remains the same, but what I wrote about intimate partner violence – in the context of his return to Bora – was not appropriate. Mea culpa.”

“From now on I’ll choose my words more carefully in the whole discussion around Bennett and I prefer to remain silent.”

Bennett has not made any comment in relation to Lefevere’s criticism. Last Tuesday he and Bora-hansgrohe officially confirmed a two-year contract, starting in 2022. He will be the undisputed top sprinter on the team, and said that he was looking forward to the opportunity.

“I have enjoyed two great years at Deceuninck-Quick-Step, my boyhood dream team, and have continued my development both on and off the bike whilst making lifelong friendships,” Bennett said then. “However, I feel ready to go back home to be the team leader that I want to be, and know Bora-hansgrohe also wants me to be.

“I know the team will have a slightly different roster than when I left, but the core group of people who are responsible for the team’s successful environment remains. I am ready to embrace the role of a team leader, to help drive the team forward so we can win together.”

His priority now will be to recover as quickly and thoroughly as possible from his injury and to get ready for the 2022 season. Bennett will want to prove a point to Lefevere and others, and will draw motivation from this.

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