Deceuninck-QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere has made the extraordinary insensitive claim that Sam Bennett’s imminent return to Bora-Hansgrohe is similar to ‘women who return home after domestic abuse’. The highly insensitive comments were made in Lefevere’s weekly column in Het Nieuwsblad.
Sam Bennett has raced on Lefevere’s team for the last two seasons and the Irish sprinter won a Tour de France Green jersey in 2020. However, a knee injury on the eve of the Tour de France forced the team to leave Bennett at home and select Mark Cavendish as a late replacement.
By that point it was public knowledge that Bennett was on his way to Bora – the team he left in 2019 in order to sign for Lefevere’s team. That split in 2019 was complicated and messy with Bennett unhappy with how he was left out of the team’s Grand Tour plans for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, with the team pledging their support to Pascal Ackermann.
Bennett was eventually allowed to switch teams, despite reportedly having signed a letter of intent to stay at Bora but the success he achieved at Deceuninck-QuickStep cemented his place as one of the best sprinters in the world. However, the relationship with Lefevere soured after the knee injury this summer. First, the team boss publicly doubted Bennett’s injury and its severity, telling Sporza: “I can't prove he doesn't have knee pain, but I'm starting to think more and more that it's more fear of failure than just pain."
At the same time, Lefevere questioned Bennett’s mental resilience and publicly threatened to bench him and dock his wages if he did not ‘behave’.
During the Tour de France Lefevere also told Cyclingnews that Bennett had not been 'respectful'.
“The sprint train was for Sam and you can’t change the programme for riders in the last week. That doesn’t work. Everyone has been mentally prepared for months. You can’t say that Mark is less than Sam. He deserves the best leadout.
"He’s different to Sam. First of all, Mark’s a lot stronger in the head than Sam. Even when Sam was the fastest he was always doubting about himself. We’ve told Mark that he has nothing to lose. That’s a luxury.
“If he [Bennett] behaves himself he will race. If not, then three months less riding and 50 per cent less salary.”
“I don’t know if you have a boss but I learnt since I was a kid that the guy who pays you is the boss and he deserves respect. He didn’t show me respect. It’s more a pity for him than it is for me. If you fight like a devil and cry like a child because Bora-Hansgrohe treats you wrong and then after nearly 14 months you sign with the team again it says more about him than it does about me. I have balls, he doesn’t.”
In this week’s column, Lefevere talks about the mental strength of several of the riders he has worked with in the past, from Johan Museeuw to Frank Vandenbroucke, and the current generation of riders under his care and management.
“I’ve never had mentally unstable riders in my team, but there were definitely ‘special ones’. Rémi Cavagna is not a nervous guy - his hobby is fishing - but sometimes stress gets to him. Some people say that Remco Evenepoel can’t handle a bike, but in the beginning, Rémi was afraid to take a bottle or even raise his hands when he won. It’s all between the ears. Tim Declercq is a really intelligent guy, but he ‘choked’ when he has to ride for himself,” Lefevere wrote.
His attention then turned to Bennett with highly insensitive remarks about both the rider’s state of mind and the comparison with domestic abuse.
“And last but not least there is Sam Bennett. For me he’s the pinnacle of mental weakness,” Lefevere remarked. “Leaving Bora and moaning to everybody about how he was ‘bullied’ and almost broke and depressed. Only to return fourteen months later. It’s the same as women who still return home after domestic abuse."
Cyclingnews understands that Bennett will not ride the Vuelta a España or the Tour of Britain. He has not raced since May and his race programme remains open for the rest of the campaign. After the recently announced departure of Ackermann and Peter Sagan, it’s likely that Bora-Hansgrohe will announce Bennett’s arrival in the coming weeks but with Lefevere’s latest outburst - which Cyclingnews does not condone in any way - it’s unclear when the Irishman will race next.
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