Sam Bennett has withdrawn from the Irish team for this weekend’s World Championships road race, acknowledging that the event comes too soon into his comeback from the knee injury that interrupted his season in May.
Bennett returned to competition in Irish colours at the European Championships in Trento earlier this month, and he subsequently lined out for Deceuninck-QuickStep at the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen and Gooikse Pijl, abandoning all three races.
"It is always an honour to represent Ireland on the international stage. However, unfortunately competing in this year’s World Road Championships will not be possible,” Bennett said in a statement released by Cycling Ireland on Tuesday.
“I am very happy to be back racing pain-free and with each race I know my fitness levels and race sharpness are improving. However, at this stage, a gruelling 260km+ race is probably a step too far.”
Bennett missed the Tour de France as a result of the knee injury and he was subjected to repeated and public criticism from Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere, most notably in his column in Het Nieuwsblad. It has since been confirmed that Bennett will return to Bora-Hansgrohe in 2022.
Lefevere threatened to cut Bennett’s salary for the final months of his contract due to his extended absence from competition, but the Irishman’s participation in the European Championships thwarted Deceuninck-QuickStep’s attempt to apply article 21 of the UCI’s rules on rider contracts.
Following Bennett’s return to action, Lefevere claimed that he would now field the sprinter at every possible juncture from here to the end of the season.
“From now on he will ride every race in which we can line him up in," Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad and other Belgian media. “Now I’m suddenly sorry that the Tour of Guangxi in China has been cancelled.”
In Bennett’s absence, the Irish team for the elite men’s road race is down to three riders, with Eddie Dunbar (Ineos), Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo) and Rory Townsend (Canyon dhb SunGod) set to participate.
“I wish Eddie Dunbar, Rory Townsend and Ryan Mullen the very best this weekend and will be supporting them from afar,” said Bennett.
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