“In Ireland, they only focus on the bad sides of it. But, there’s so much good stuff to cycling and it’s such a fantastic sport. I just feel like it gets trashed a lot.”
For Sam Bennett, 2020 was an incredible year.
Firstly, Bennett took the green jersey after finishing third in stage 5 at the Tour De France, becoming the first Irish cyclist since Sean Kelly to lead one of the classifications of the Tour. Kelly won the same jersey in 1989.
Sam Bennett’s 2020.
Next, Bennett won stage 10 of the Tour De France, becoming only the sixth Irish cyclist to win a stage at the Tour.
Then finally, Bennett won the final stage of the race while wearing the green jersey. Previously, only five riders had accomplished this feat, with Ireland’s Sean Kelly one of the five.
Unbelievably, Sean Kelly and Sam Bennett hail from the same small town in Tipperary, Carrick-on-Suir.
Proving it was no fluke, Bennett followed his Tour De France victory by winning Stage 4 of the Vuelta a Espana as well as losing out in a couple of close calls to add further stages to his ever-growing resumé.
Sam Bennett says he's still on a high after winning the green jersey in the Tour de France. pic.twitter.com/Ov0iGQf8ES
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) September 21, 2020
After two decades of hard graft, Sam Bennett became an overnight success in 2020.
However, does the 30-year-old believe there should be more coverage of Irish cycling? Particularly as before last year – and considering he’s been around for so long – there has not been much Irish sports coverage about him, or indeed Irish cycling.
Speaking after launching NOW TV dublinbikes, Bennett paused for a moment when asked about the perceived lack of coverage.
“I suppose if you did any sport, you’re looking for coverage,” he replied.
“You want to be noticed for your efforts and the work you put in. But I think that goes for every sport.
“I think that unfortunately – and it’s a part that I don’t ever like to go into but – in Ireland they only focus on the bad sides of it but there’s so much good stuff to cycling and it’s such a fantastic sport that I just feel like it gets trashed a lot.
“It hurts because I’m a genuine guy and I work so hard that I don’t like that the image is destroyed at times.”
However, the 2018 Giro d’Italia final stage winner paid tribute to the fantastic support he has received in Ireland, both before the Tour De France and after.
“In general, people I work with and talk to, they’ve been fantastic and given me some great coverage,” Bennett continued.
“I think in the Tour last year, I got some fantastic exposure so I can’t complain.
“Over the Christmas again, I got some great exposure. Teaming up with NowTV and Dublin bikes, it’s another thing that I’m really excited about and the launch of the new app.
“So I think it’s all a positive note and it’s going in a really good direction.”
Last year was particularly gruelling for Bennett, given the condensed schedule due to Covid restrictions.
The Vuelta a Espana took place less than a month after the Tour De France, giving Bennett very little time to recover.
While this took its toll physically, it was more mental fatigue that had a bigger impact on him.
“So I think mental fatigue is the biggest thing,” he admitted.
“It’s a thing a lot of people don’t think about. Like I really discovered more about myself doing two grand tours back-to-back.
“I recovered well for a week, two weeks after the Tour De France. Did some one-day races, didn’t feel great and then went into the Vuelta.”
Pushing through barrier.
Nevertheless, the Irish rider pushed through the metal pain barrier and began building up some momentum.
“I found that actually once I pushed the body after the fourth day, it just seemed to open up and get back into the rhythm,” he explained.
“I recognised what was happening there so actually the legs came good.
“My peak power kind of died a little bit but I was more like a diesel. I could keep going and then I was pressured at the end of races so I could use more power if that makes sense.
“But the main thing was the mental fatigue.”
Minding the head.
Nowadays, dealing with the mental side of elite sport is something that is spoken about a lot more with professional athletes.
While the Tipperary man got through last year’s tough schedule, he is fearing the same mental fatigue creeping in again in 2021.
However, he is more ready to deal with it this time around.
“I would have liked to have had more time off in the off-season because even though I’m fine now, I’m just afraid that a couple of months into the season my head falls off,” Bennett continued.
“I don’t see that happening but it’s just a fear and I always want to play a bit on the safe side because when the head is strong, you can push yourself unbelievably well but if the head’s not there, you’re just going to be pedalling squares.
“The head will give up 15,000 times before the body will.”
Currently, Bennett is training in the south of Spain ahead of the 2021 season, with “preparations going very well.”
He is hopeful that the new coronavirus strain doesn’t impact the schedule while recognising that “public health is the number one priority.”
In an ever-changing landscape, the current calendar can be rescheduled at any moment.
One thing is for certain though. If Sam Bennett can reach the same heights as 2020, we’re in for some ride.