Sam Bennett interview: ‘I’ve won the Green Jersey already, so why can’t I do it again?’

Carrick-on-Suir rider has got his mojo back and aims for Tour de France glory in 2023

The difference in a year is notable. Twelve months ago Sam Bennett was still on the comeback trail from a lingering knee problem, hoping for the best from the 2022 season but uncertain about how things would go.

This time around, he is in a far better place. A strong showing at the Vuelta a España plus a fine return from Covid-19 in his final event of the season showed he is close to his best and, as 2023 approaches, he has a quiet self-assurance about him.

Last winter he was hoping he’d regain his best form; this winter he fully expects it.

“The main thing about this year is I finished good and I’m starting back with everybody else,” Bennett told The Irish Times plus a small group of international media in recent days. “You’re not playing catch up. It feels like a normal year again, because I had my off season, I am building up, I am at the team camp and everything’s running well. Now it’s just back in the normal rhythm.”


Pre-injury, Bennett was arguably the best sprinter in international cycling. He had steadily improved year on year and when he returned to the 2020 Tour de France after a four year absence, the-then Deceuninck-QuickStep rider powered to two stage wins plus the coveted green jersey.

He then dominated the sprints in early 2021 and looked on course for another big Tour until he hit his knee off his handlebars while training and was sidelined for several months.

Cue ungracious public criticism from his team manager, cue a move back to his previous Bora-Hansgrohe team, and cue a slow start to 2022 as he continued to rebuild.

Asked to contrast where he was physically and mentally then versus now, he said the difference is night and day.

“Last winter I didn’t have the best preseason. When I look back at UAE [the UAE Tour in February, where he placed second and third on stages – ed.], it is a bloody miracle that I got two podiums there. Like, I had nothing done ... really nothing done, and still managed to get them. So I can’t really compare the physical side because they’re just two totally different levels.

“Everything’s really on track now at the minute. I just have to keep it going.”

Mentally he’s far stronger too, courtesy of his return to form in the final months of this season. Bennett doesn’t swagger like some other sprinters do, being more quiet and understated than the likes of Mark Cavendish, but his body language projects a calm confidence.

“The thing about it is you just don’t overthink it, because I’ve won before,” he said. “It’s just about going through the process of making sure I’m good, that I’m fit, healthy. Then when I’m fit and healthy, and the team is here and surrounding me and given me the support, the results will come.”

Bennett returned to the top step of the podium in winning the Eschborn-Frankfurt in May, but still wasn’t firing on all cylinders. He kept working hard after being passed over for selection for the Tour de France, and then roared back to the headlines when he won stages two and three in the Vuelta a España. He looked good for more victories plus the green jersey but was forced out of the Spanish Grand Tour before stage 10 due to a positive test for Covid-19.

That was a blow, but he gave himself the time needed to recover. He gradually ramped up his training and returned to competition in early October. The first two races were good rather than great; the third was something special. Bennett was on the attack for much of Paris-Tours, a sprinter riding in a much more aggressive way than many often do, and while he was reeled in close to the finish he was still able to take third.

In fact, had he not been hemmed in by other riders at the end, he may well have won.

“That race was good for the confidence,” he said. “I was pretty happy with the ride. I rode a strong race and then I had unbelievable power in the sprint, but I just couldn’t get out in time.

“But it was good for the confidence to ride like that, to be aggressive. To have an idea in your head how it was going to work. To think on the spot on the road, and for it to actually pay off it was quite nice, to just prove to myself that I know how to ride a bike race.

“I think also having so much power in the sprint was good for the confidence as well, after such a hard and long day.”

I think it’s possible [to shine again in the Tour]. There are a possible eight sprints. A few of those might be hillier towards the end and maybe to get there is going to be hard. But I think I have to believe it as well

—  Sam Bennett

Ending the year on a high note was important as it gave him the morale and motivation to work hard towards the new season. He will train with the Bora-Hansgrohe team at their camp in Mallorca until December 21st and will then open his season one month later in the eight-day Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina. The UAE Tour comes next, then Paris-Nice, Milan San Remo, plus a number of other one-day Classics that should suit him.

The big goal, though, is the Tour de France. When he lines out in Bilbao on July 1st it will be three years since he last competed in the sport’s top event. Time has moved on and new stars such as 2022 green jersey winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) have risen to the top, but Bennett remains convinced he can win there again.

“I definitely think it is possible,” he says, when asked if he can win the green jersey once more. “I did it before, there’s no reason why I can’t do it again. And everything seems to be coming back into place.

“I think I struggled getting some of my peak power this season, but it seems to just come when I build up my engine, when I do bigger endurance rides and train more like a Classics rider. It’s weird, the power comes when I don’t do specific sprint work, when I just do normal training. I don’t know why that is ... when I do sprint work it just kind of stays the same.

“I think it’s possible [to shine again in the Tour]. There are a possible eight sprints. A few of those might be hillier towards the end and maybe to get there is going to be hard. But I think I have to believe it as well.

“I wouldn’t be the rider I am today if I didn’t believe that I was able to do it. And it’s not like I’m going into unknown territory where I didn’t do it before. I’ve done it already, so why can’t I do it again?”

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about cycling