Bora-Hansgrohe have accepted that a "disappointed" Sam Bennett will need time to "get over" his omission from the team’s Tour de France squad and their decision to focus on the overall classification with Aleksandr Vlasov.
Bennett returned to Bora-Hansgrohe this year after a previous six-year stint between 2014 and 2019, hoping to sprint again at the Tour after his final season at QuickStep ended in injury and a fall-out with the team manager Patrick Lefevere.
However, after missing much of the second half of last season with a knee injury, Bennett has struggled to get back to the level that won him two stages and the green jersey at the 2020 Tour. Last Monday, his name was surprisingly not included on the list of eight riders heading to Copenhagen to start the Tour de France.
The Bora-Hansgrohe have not explained their selection strategy but team manager Rolf Aldag is well aware that Bennett is disappointed to miss the Tour de France and will need time to understand why Bora-Hansgrohe opted to back Vlasov rather than divide the teams across GC and sprint goals.
"For sure he's disappointed. For sure we need to give him time to get over it and make a next plan with his coach," Rolf Aldag told Cyclingnews in Roskilde at the start of stage 2.
"With his talent, with his history, with the victories he has, if he wasn't disappointed not to ride the Tour, it would be very weird.
“It's logical to say that, after planning for the Tour and working for the Tour, being under pressure from that comeback year this year, then not making it, it's fair enough to give everyone a bit of time to reconsider and try to find the best plan."
With just one victory so far this year, at Eschborn Frankfurt in early May, Bennett's omission was perhaps not the greatest surprise. However, it wasn't solely down to his form, with Aldag pointing to the presence of GC leader Aleksandr Vlasov and the general direction of the team.
Jai Hindley's victory at the Giro d'Italia in May, following the departure of Peter Sagan, appeared to cement their new-found direction as a GC team. Meanwhile, Vlasov has had a brilliant debut season with the team, winning the Tour of Valencia and Tour de Romandie, and establishing himself as a dark horse for Tour de France victory.
"The whole decision is definitely not against Sam Bennett. It's just pro GC, to keep it really short and simple," Aldag said.
"If we take Sam, for reasons of fairness we have to take some lead-out with him. You don't have a chance as a sprinter if you're alone against rival full lead-outs. Having that in mind, then having Vlasov really, really on a run this year... What do you do? Do you compromise and make everyone unhappy? That doesn't make sense."
As for the new Grand Tour direction of Bora-Hansgrohe, Aldag explained: "It's a long-term project. Expectations are growing, we're not afraid of that but we're well aware it might change our strategy of riding."
Aldag indicated that Bennett would have been sprinting at the Tour had Vlasov not recovered quickly from the COVID-19 positive that took him out of the Tour de Suisse. Aldag also felt Bennett could have won at the Tour but the GC strategy ultimately prevailed.
"For sure there was some work to do but he was in a very good way. If he was here, with the quality he has, the talent he has, the tactical skills he has, he would have a chance to win a stage," Aldag insisted.
Van Poppel becomes Bora-Hansgrohe’s sprint option
Aldag indicated that Bennett could not be included without a support network, but his lead-out man Danny van Poppel is nevertheless in attendance at the Tour, as is Marco Haller, who has taken a road captain role to help Vlasov but has experience in sprint trains.
The pair could perhaps prove useful in the early sprints and on the cobbles of stage 5, but Van Poppel appeared a little unclear as to his role.
"I was a bit surprised, but also not, because Vlasov is going really really well and Sam is not. He's a bit under his level," Van Poppel told Cyclingnews of his selection.
"I prefer to do a lead-out but it is what it is. I commit myself to lead-outs so you want to show yourself in the lead-outs, and now I cannot do it. But I will have to show myself another way."
That other way will be stepping into Bennett's sprinting shoes. The priority will be Vlasov, but Van Poppel should be let off the leash on the flatter stages once Vlasov has been safely guided to the safety net of the 3km-to-go banner.
"It's different but in the past I always did some sprinting so it's not a big change. There's some more pressure but the team is here for Vlasov so it's not a big pressure,” Van Poppel said.
"I feel really good - better than ever. I know guys like [Fabio] Jakobsen and [Dylan] Groenewegen are really really fast, but I believe in it. You never know. Yesterday [Yves] Lampaert won. You never know."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.