Sam Bennett might have just finished his longest season to date in the professional peloton but the Irishman says he'd happily carry on racing. Bennett has been buoyed by a very successful season that saw him take five wins and finish his year off with a victory at last Friday's Paris-Bourges.
"I've got such good form that I'm a bit disappointed that the season is over and I wish that there was another couple of months," he told Cyclingnews a day before jetting off to the Maldives for his off-season holiday.
After knocking on the door of professionalism for a few years, Bennett has now completed his second season as a professional with the German-based Bora-Argon 18 team. When he lines up at his first race next season he will no longer be a neo-pro, he will be a fully-fledged, experienced member of the peloton. This year has been a big one for 24-year-old. While his number of victories is just one more than it was in his debut season in 2014, the quality of them has been higher. All but one of the five wins have been at HC level and his most recent at Paris-Bourges saw him beat riders such as Nacer Bouhanni and Giacomo Nizzolo.
For Bennett, there is more to his success than just the quality and quantity.
"In other years, I never really got the consistency that I wanted or needed and it's something that I always wanted to work on," he explained. "When I did win is was always in close space, when I had a bit of form and I didn't win at other times of the year. I look and think about what makes a good sprinter and they have to be able to get results all season long, when they're feeling good and when they're feeling bad. This year I was able to get results at different points of the year and that made me really happy."
Bennett, who is 25 on Friday, believes that this consistency has been borne out of the stable environment provided to him by moving to Monaco, which allows him to train better in the warm weather.
Riding on the big stage
It hasn't all been plain sailing for the Irishman this year. He fell ill three weeks before making his debut at the Tour de France and again after the race. Feeling the effects of his illness and lack of training, Bennett struggled and it wasn't until stage 7 that he was able to contest a sprint - finishing 10th into Fougères - but his debut Tour was not a chance to be sniffed at.
"It was really frustrating. It was a race I really wanted to go well at. Everybody watches it and follows and then when I was lantern rouge, that wasn't really nice," said Bennett. "I took it as a race that I could learn from and I knew that I had to put my body through it so I went hard. I think it was definitely something I needed to do but I wish it had gone a bit better.
"I'd never ridden more than eight days in a row and then I made it to 17. To race flat out after the Tour and then to get good form again is pushing the body so much further than before. I've learned so much from it… I think I would finish another Grand Tour now and maybe get a result."
Bennett learnt about what his body could withstand and also how to race the Tour, which Bennett discovered is not like any race he'd done in his 18 months as a professional.
"Sometimes it felt like I was back at Junior and Under 23 racing. If I did some of the stuff they were doing in other races then they would give out to me because it was stupid," laughed Bennett.
"In the first five stages, everyone is so twitchy and the crashes were happening every five minutes, I couldn't believe it. I wouldn't normally get too scared and in a sprint I'd get a bit crazy trying to go through gaps but I couldn't go through the bunch. I was hanging back and not taking risks and then I saw climbers going through gaps like they were sprinters."
What next for Bennett?
Bennett is reluctant to talk about any specific ambitions for 2016 as he tries to rid himself of all cycling thoughts for his brief two-week holiday before his pre-season training kicks off on November 2. All he knows is that next year has to be bigger and better than the one that he's just left behind.
"I'd like to perform in WorldTour races and get some results there. Each year I get better results and a higher standard of race but I think WorldTour is where it's at. You need to perform there to be a world class sprinter and that's what I'm aiming for," Bennett explained. "The team is still developing, we're a young team and we're getting better at lead-outs and I think that will help us get more results I think. Hopefully I can get more wins than this year."
Looking a little further down the line, Bennett is also keen step up to WorldTour level himself. He is contracted to Pro Continental outfit Bora-Argon 18 until 2017 but he's already learned that a lot can happen in that time.
"Things change really quickly so I don't know what is going to happen in the next couple of years," he said.
"I'd always keep my options open, I'd never tie myself down. The team want to go WorldTour in the next few years. It's a lovely team to be in and a great environment but I can't say what's going to happen in the next two years. Two years ago I was in a Continental team and this year I did the Tour de France."
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