Sam Bennett has been named as the surprise leader of the Irish team at this week's European road championships in Trento, Italy, with the sprinter set to head the squad in the elite men's road race on Sunday.
Bennett has been on the sidelines for many months, having last competed in the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal in early May. He picked up an injury when he banged his knee on his handlebars while out training, and was forced to miss firstly the Tour of Belgium, and then the Tour de France.
That absence led to public criticism of Bennett by Deceuninck-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere, with the Belgian questioning the extent of the injury. He later backtracked, saying one month ago that Bennett needed an operation and wouldn't compete again this season.
It is not yet clear how if Bennett has had that operation, or if his knee issue has been resolved through rehabilitation sessions. Either way, his return to competition will be welcomed.
Three riders will back Bennett in the elite men's road race, namely Trek-Segafredo WorldTour pro Ryan Mullen, Conn McDunphy (EvoPro Racing) and Matthew Teggart (Velo Club Villefranche Beaujolais).
The 179.2km race takes in a hilly 73km loop in the Valle dei Laghi before beginning eight laps of a lumpy 13.2km finishing circuit. Given the nature of the course plus Bennett’s lack of competition, his participation may be primarily about logging racing kilometres in advance of a possible participation in the world road race championships in Belgium on September 26th.
A total of 22 Irish riders have been selected for the European championships. Saturday's elite women's road race will see Megan Armitage and Ellen McDermott represent Ireland.
Armitage has been in strong form in recent weeks, outsprinting five-time Belgian national champion Ann-Sophoe Duyck to win the Emptinne GP Roland Warnon in Wallonie on August 15th.
She also placed second in the Kermis Erwetegem on August 30th. McDermott finished third in the 2020 national road race championships and was eighth on the final stage of the Baloise Ladies Tour on July 11th.
The Irish squad's campaign will begin on Wednesday morning when Darren Rafferty and Conal Scully compete in the 22.4km junior men's time trial. Kevin McCambridge and Aaron Wade will then contest the Under-23 men's time trial on Thursday afternoon, while Mullen and national time trial champion McDunphy will ride the elite men's time trial.
The road races begin on Friday morning with the junior men's event. Rafferty and Scully will be joined by Ronan O'Connor, Adam Gilsenan, Dean Harvey and Ruairí Byrne. Aoife O'Brien will be the sole entrant in the junior women's race that afternoon, and Caoimhe O'Brien, Darcey Harkness and Lucy O'Donnell will contest the under-23 women's road race.
The under-23 men's and elite women's road races on Saturday will see McCambridge, Wade, Dillon Corkery, Adam Ward, Devin Shortt and Matthew Devins take part in the former and Armitage and McDermott contest the latter.
Bennett, Mullen, McDunphy and Teggart will complete the campaign in the elite men’s event on Sunday.
Irish national team for UEC European Road Championships, Trento, Italy (September 8-12th)
Elite men’s road race: Sam Bennett, Ryan Mullen, Conn McDunphy, Matthew Taggart.
Elite men’s time trial: Ryan Mullen, Conn McDunphy.
Elite women’s road race: Megan Armitage, Ellen McDermott.
Under-23 men’s road race: Kevin McCambridge, Aaron Wade, Dillon Corkery, Adam Ward, Devin Shortt, Matthew Devins.
Under-23 men’s time trial: Kevin McCambridge, Aaron Wade.
Under-23 women’s road race: Caoimhe O’Brien, Darcey Harkness, Lucy O’Donnell.
Junior men’s road race: Darren Rafferty, Conal Scully, Ronan O’Connor, Adam Gilsenan, Dean Harvey, Ruairí Byrne.
Junior men’s time trial: Darren Rafferty, Conal Scully.
Junior women’s road race: Aoife O’Brien.