Ten days ago, after his first stage win in the Tour de France, when Sam Bennett was asked if he would prefer to win the green points jersey or the stage 21 sprint win on the Champs-Élysées, he seemed genuinely stumped over which one took precedence.
As matters turned out, Bennett did not have to choose, as on Sunday he secured both Ireland's first green jersey since Sean Kelly took it for a fourth time in 1989 and a win on the stage unofficially known as the 'sprinter's World Championships' on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
On Friday's stage 19, after Bennett came through one of his trickiest days with his lead not only intact but slightly increased, his Bora-Hansgrohe rival, and seven-time green jersey winner, Peter Sagan all but conceded the battle in a message posted to social media.
But mathematically, Bennett had to wait until Sunday's final stage to secure the competition for good with a fifth place at the intermediate sprint on the third of eight laps of the Champs-Élysées. He then went on to become the first rider since Mark Cavendish in 2011 to win the hallowed Paris sprint finish in green.
“I never thought I'd be in this position,” Bennett said after taking the final sprint of the Tour cleanly and efficiently, well clear of world championMads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).
"You watch this growing up, you see the iconic camera angle beside the sprinters and to do it in the green jersey, it feels absolutely amazing."
Bennett described the sprint and its build-up in almost photographic detail, saying he was nervous because "the last time I was on the Champs-Élysées someone came down on the back straight and broke their collarbone. So I was nervous about riding in the bunch because it was really fast – it doesn't seem like it on TV but it's a fast downhill.
"Then we waited and waited, the boys controlled the race, came in under the tunnel first. I was thinking, too early, too early – and Trek were trying to push up and we were holding – and then into the last corner, Morkov started to open up and we had each side covered.
"I let Trek come up because I felt from the lap before there was a bit of a headwind. So I let them go first.
"Then I waited and I opened up when [Jasper] Stuyven came off the front for Pedersen, I had a bike length to run at his wheel, so I ran at that – and came on the other side where it was smooth. I thought there was going to be someone to come past me – but I can't believe I got it."
Questions about how this achievement related to Sean Kelly – also from the town of Carrick-on-Suir, like Bennett – were all but inevitable. And this time Bennett was asked if, when growing up, some people might have thought he was good but never another Kelly.
Now though, having achieving something Kelly never did – winning on the Champs-Élysées – he was smiling a little at what might have been said back in the day.
"Yeah, I've also won in each Grand Tour and he didn't," Bennett said with a grin. "No, I'm only joking – I'll never be the next Sean Kelly, if you look at his palmarès, it's incredible. Plain and simple, I'm not that good.
"But I'm 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.”
Bennett also had words of thanks for Kelly for sending him short video messages of advice and encouragement during his long and tough campaign for green.
"That's great to get from a fellow countryman, someone who’s been in the same position and who understands what you’re going through," Bennett said. "It's nice to have the recognition from him; it was really nice to get those messages."
Asked if this, his seventh Grand Tour stage win, was his best victory, he replied in the affirmative without hesitating.
"Yes. To do this in the green jersey… I always said I had three dream races, San Remo, the World Championships and the Champs-Élysées.
"To do the Champs-Élysées with the green jersey, it’s just – oh, man. I never even dreamed about the green jersey because I never thought I'd be good enough to have it.
"Somehow, wearing it and winning it, it's like a dream I never knew I had until I'd worn the jersey. It's something I'll not forget for the rest of my life."
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