What next for green jersey hero Sam Bennett after toughest of Tours?
Irish rider likely to miss Giro and Vuelta as his focus switches to races back in Belgium
Sam Bennett celebrates on the podium after his green jersey victory. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/Getty/AFP
Traditionally the only thing as epic as the last day of the Tour de France down the Champs-Élysées is the epic after-party for each of the jersey winners. Like certain things around this year’s race these were a little compromised, only Sam Bennett winning the green jersey was always likely to be a more lasting celebration.
Moments after he crossed that end line on Sunday, only the fifth rider in Tour history to win the last stage while also wearing the green jersey since the race first started finishing on the Champs-Élysées in 1975, Bennett promptly raised his green racing bike over this head, as if he wanted to throw it some distance away, as well he might.
After three weeks of racing, 58,000m of climbing and 3,482km of road, two outright stage victories and six times in the top five, Bennett could be forgiven for not wanting to ride his bike for a while, but other Tour traditions typically demand otherwise.
Including the need for Bennett to essentially ride the Tour out of his legs - meaning a few more days on his bike after returning from Paris to his home in Monaco with his wife Tara on Monday, a few days of complete rest, before returning to the racing circuit as one of the Tour jersey winners, picking up some of the bonuses that come with them.
With the 2020 Tour finishing two months later than originally planned, given the entire season rescheduling around Covid-19, there are also still two more Grand Tours to come - the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España overlapping in October, which means for all riders it will be one or the other.
The Giro is set to take place from October 3rd-25th, and Bennett definitely won’t be considered for that, nor likely the shortened 18-stage Vuelta, set to take place from October 20th to November 8th, although that hasn’t been entirely ruled out.
Bennett had already decided against racing the World Championships in Imola this weekend, in part because it’s a particularly hilly course, 258.2km in distance: originally set to for Switzerland, the event was moved due to Covid-19. Cycling Ireland confirmed a four-man line up that does include Dan Martin and Nicholas Roche, who finished 41st and 64th respectively in the Tour, along with Ryan Mullen and Ben Healy (Eddie Dunbar is recovering from a broken collarbone sustained while riding for Team Ineos in the Tirreno-Adriatico two weeks ago).
It means Bennett’s next focus will be races in Belgium, home to his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team, and among those being considered is the Flèche Wallonne (September 30th), Liège-Bastogne-Liège (October 4th), Ghent-Wevelgem (October 11th) and the Tour of Flanders (October 18th).
Most disappointing for Bennett is the fact he likely won’t get to defend his National Road title year, the championship he won for the first time in Derry last summer, ahead of Dunbar and Mullen, and which earned the right to wear the green strip on his Deceuninck-Quick-Step kit throughout this year’s Tour: those championships are set for Limerick from October 1st-3rd, but the travel restrictions around Covid-19 means he won’t be returning home just yet.
“That’s certainly disappointing, one of the titles I was most proud to win last year, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to race them,” said Bennett, who also admitted his after-party was mostly restricted to a few drinks in the team bus on Sunday evening.
“With a few team duties in Belgium, they’re just trying to limit my travel. So I really don’t know when I’ll be back in Ireland, but later this year, hopefully. It usually takes a week after a Grand Tour as well before it hits the body, you’re usually on a high, in a rhythm, so the tiredness only hits you for a week or so as well.”
It was by all accounts among the hardest Tours in history, probably one of the best too - not least in the way Tadej Pogacar from Slovenia took the yellow on an individual time trial on the second last day for only the seventh time in Tour history, most famously before when Greg LeMond took it off Laurent Fignon by eight seconds, Stephen Roche also overtaking Pedro Delgado on the last time trial to win yellow in 1987.
“I can’t compare this green jersey race to other years, because I wasn’t in it,” Bennett said of his own efforts. “I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t fully understand what’s involved. You’re racing some stages against pure sprinters, racing guys for the points jersey, so you’re almost involved in two races.
“Then trying to get in the breakaway, or watching the right riders, then the intermediates, the bunch sprints, every day there is work to be done, so many people to watch. So I was a very hard thing to do, might be my only chance to ever do it, so pretty proud of it.”
Given most of the money that comes with professional cycling is paid out in salaries, plus race bonus, the prize money for the Tour is relatively modest, although Pogacar took home €602,400 in all, €500,000 for winning the general classification, €20,000 for the young rider classification, €25,000 for the mountains classification, plus other stage win bonus. Bennett got €25,000 for winning the green jersey, his six top-five stage finishes bringing his total to €70,870, but again the team bonus will be substantially more than that - Tour tradition also demanding that such Tour money is divvied out among his teams mates.
At age 29, this being the first season with his “dream team” Deceuninck-Quick-Step, Bennett can also look forward to several more challenges for green jerseys in the future, his previous team Bora-Hansgrohe essentially keeping him out of the last three Tours in favour of Peter Sagan.
When jesting too that he will never be the next Seán Kelly, after bridging the 31-year gap since Kelly last won green in Paris, adding that he’s “still proud of what I’ve achieved, and still proud to do part of what he’s done, even if it’s not a quarter of what he’s achieved” it was a reminder too that Kelly won a then record four green jerseys (in 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1989), an also finished second twice (in 1980 and 1984) and third once (1988).
Chances are, however, this won’t be the last one for Bennett.