After a largely successful debut season that saw him take home three victories, Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) is about to embark on his second year as a professional. The 24-year-old made his name back in 2013 with a stage win at the Tour of Britain, and was quickly snapped up by the German Pro Continental team NetApp-Endura. With a year of experience at Pro Continental level, Bennett is ready to advance to the next level.
“I just want to make another step and having a season under my belt makes me that much stronger,” he told Cyclingnews at his team’s recent training camp in Mallorca. “As a sprinter, you’re always trying to get the results, whether you’re feeling bad or good. I’d like to do that and try to get more consistency and then the results will come. The more times you put yourself into the right position, the more opportunities you get.”
Prime on Bennett’s list of targets this season is a spot in the Tour de France team in July. He made the long list in 2014 but was left out of the final selection as the team decided on a climbing-centric focus with Leopold König. A year wiser, Bennett believes that he has what it takes to make the start in Utrecht. “I think I’m mature enough for it now,” he said.
“I’d love to make it to the start and see how I match up against the big names. In a sprint you never know how it will turn out, sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time and it just happens for you. I’d love to give it a shot and see how it goes.”
Increasing the pressure
The winter has seen some big changes within the team with both NetApp and Endura leaving while Bora has stepped up to the role of lead sponsor and bike manufacturer Argon 18 has come in as a secondary sponsor. The changes have extended to the roster and star rider König has departed for pastures new, along with Tiago Machado and David de la Cruz. Bennett confirmed his place in the team until the end of 2017, and they have brought in Dominik Nerz (formerly of BMC) as their new stage race contender but the onus for results has swung towards the Irishman.
Rather than being intimidated by the new status, it is a position that Bennett relishes. “If they weren’t putting pressure on me then I would be thinking that they didn’t have any confidence in me, so I think it’s a good thing.
“I think the bigger pressure comes from myself so I’m not too worried about that.”
Bennett began his season at the Mallorca Challenge, taking fourth in the Trofeo Playa de Palma-Palma behind Matteo Pelucchi, André Greipel and Ben Swift. He will return to the Tour of Qatar next week, after making his first appearance for Bora (then NetApp) at the race 12 months ago. It was a solid debut for the Irishman with two top ten finishes among a strong field of sprinters. A year on, the field is just as strong with the likes of Marcel Kittel, Tom Boonen and Alexander Kristoff all ready to do battle in the desert. Bennett knows that he faces a tough challenge but he is hungry for more this time around.
“There are some big names there and they’re also trying to get results there and they’re looking at the races afterwards so they’ll be absolutely flying. It makes it that bit harder,” said Bennett, who also raced in Qatar with the An Post-Sean Kelly team in 2011. “It’s a race that’s all about position. You can be unlucky on days as well and it can be very hard. I hope that the race goes well and that I can pull off a result. I’d love to get a podium there, that would be fantastic.”
Qatar will give Bennett and his lead-out a chance to put into practice the training that they were polishing off in Mallorca. Key in that train will be the Australian Zak Dempster and new signing Shane Archbold, who was a gold medallist on the track at last year’s Commonwealth Games. Archbold is someone that Bennett is used to working with after spending a year together on the An Post-Chain Reactions team and the Irishman is happy to have him back on board in 2015.
“He’s good to have on your side, he can be aggressive when he wants to be so he’s not pushed around too easily. He’s a big unit and he’s got a big engine from the track so he can do big turns on the front. Then I’ve got Zak as well and he’s absolutely motoring,” said Bennett.
“I think that whole team has made a step since last season. Everybody’s in good form, there’s good morale. We’re starting to look strong and we’re doing pretty good numbers during the sprint training.”