EF Education First-Drapac announced today the signing of 22-year-old American Sean Bennett from the Hagens Berman Axeon development team. Bennett won a stage of the Baby Giro in June and finished second on stage 3 of the Tour of California to Trek-Segafredo's Toms Skujins.
“He won a stage of the Baby Giro,” said team CEO Jonathan Vaughters. "He almost won a stage in the Tour of California this year, finishing second to Toms Skujins, who I would say is the guy Sean reminds me of most.
“When I called Sean up, my question was, ‘Are you a little pissed off that you’ve been looked over while other guys, like Neilson Powless and Brandon McNulty and some other high-profile U23s have been in the spotlight? Does that irk you?’
“And he said, ‘Yeah, it does.’
“I thought, ‘perfect.’”
Bennett got his start in cycling as a high school freshman, following in his older brothers’ footsteps by joining NICA – the National Interscholastic Cycling Association that was founded in 2009 to develop an interscholastic mountain biking program for high school students across the US.
After high school, Bennett switched his focus from mountain biking to road racing. He raced in Europe with USA Cycling before signing up for Irish Continental squad An Post-Chain Reaction in 2016.
“I’ve had a lot of transitions and a lot of big learning curves,” Bennett said. “It seems like every year I’ve taken a key step: transitioning from mountain bike to road, road racing in America, road racing in Europe – that was a particularly big step.
"The last few years have been about increasing the comfort level and confidence in Europe so that I can compete, be an active participant rather than someone just riding in the field. I think this year I’ve taken a big step being able to consistently have a role in a race and impact its outcome in some ways. I quite like doing that.”
Prior to the 2018 season, Bennett rode mostly as a domestique, signing with Jelly Belly in 2017 after his year with An Post-Chain Reaction. He initially signed with US Continental team CCB Foundation-Siclerifor 2018 before moving to Hagens Berman Axeon in May before the Tour of California. Since his move, Bennett has had the opportunity to take on a different role.
“The fitness hasn’t changed much from last year to this year, but I got to save myself for the end of the races, and I had the results to show for it,” Bennett said.
Bennett will make another big transition next year.
“There are a lot of unknowns, and signing with EF offered me the most knowns in a world of unknowns,” he said of moving to the WorldTour. “Having familiar faces around me – people I know, I like, I get along with – having that will ease this transition.
“I’m most looking forward to competition at the highest level and knowing that the races I’m doing are at the top and I’m racing against the best guys in the world,” Bennett said. “I’m excited to see how I stack up.”
Vaughters obviously believes Bennett will stack up well in his new surroundings, comparing the young American to Skujins, who rode with Vaughters' teams for three seasons.
“Toms’ story was a bit similar,” Vaughters said. “He had great results and was somehow overlooked. Sean, to me, is the exact same thing. The guy has done a lot in under-23 and pro ranks this year. But he’s one of those guys who, for one reason or another, his name just hasn’t popped as much as. He’s got a lot of fire. And I’m happy to have a young guy like that on the team next year.
"He knows how to sniff out a breakaway. He sprints well. He climbs well. He’s an all-around rider with really great bike-handling skills and a good nose for tactics. As the directors would say, he’s a quote, unquote racer. He knows how to win when he puts himself in a position, knows how to help teammates.”