Sam Bennett gets season off to a winning start in Argentina

Track sprint rider Orla Walsh takes three bronze medals in Portugal

Sam Bennett had a morale-boosting start to his 2023 season overnight in Argentina, winning the first stage of the Vuelta a San Juan with a powerful sprint.

The Bora-hansgrohe rider had a perfect leadout from team-mate Danny Van Poppel, coming off his wheel at high speed and blasting home comfortably ahead of Michael Morkov (Soudal-Quick Step), Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech), Van Poppel and the rest of the main bunch.

“I worked really hard this off-season and all my team-mates did too, so it’s really nice to kick off the season on a high note,” Bennett said. “After a not so great season last year it feels like I’ve returned to my old self now. It was a fast and hectic finale and I really want to thank my team-mates for their perfect work and lead out.”

Bennett is now the first race leader and takes a four second lead into stage two late this evening, an undulating 201.1 kilometre stage to Jáchal.


Speaking to Eurosport before the race, he laid out his targets for the event. “I’d like to get a win here. I think quietly, in my head, I want more than one win. But one win would be nice.”

Bennett is in a far different position to this time 12 months ago. He was still trying to get over a long-term knee injury then and it wasn’t until May 1st before he took his first win of the season in the Eschborn-Frankfurt race in Germany. He added two stage wins at the Vuelta a España to that tally, but then had to withdraw from the race due to a positive test for Covid-19.

He normally aims for 10 victories or more a season and having had to settle for three in 2022, wanted to get things off to a strong start in Argentina. The event runs until next Sunday and presents several more stages suitable for a bunch sprint.

Meanwhile track sprint rider Orla Walsh had a strong showing at the Troféu Internacional de Pista Artur Lopes class 1 track event held in Anadia, Portugal, netting three bronze medals. The Dubliner finished third in the sprint on Friday behind the Britons Katy Marchant and Lauren Bell, and finished in the same position behind Bell and Marchant in the 500 metre time trial on Saturday.

She competed in the Keirin on Sunday, winning her heat and progressing to the final. She was once again on the podium there, netting third behind the Spaniard Helena Casas Roige and Marchant.

Two other Irish riders also rode strongly in the track competition. Lara Gillespie was fourth in the multi-round Omnium event, while Alice Sharpe was fifth in the scratch race.

They are part of a eight-rider squad due to compete in the European Championships in Grenchen, Switzerland, between February 8th and 12th.

Elsewhere, five Irish riders competed at the Benidorm round of the cyclo-cross World Cup on Sunday. The new national senior champion Dean Harvey finished a solid 19th in the under 23 event, two minutes 28 seconds behind the race winner and current Under 23 World Cup leader Thibau Nys.

Aine Doherty also placed 19th in the junior women’s race, her first international event in that age category. The 16 year old first year junior was 5 minutes 3 seconds behind the Dutch winner Lauren Molengraaf, with 17 year old Hannah McClorey finishing 23rd. McClorey finished second behind the winner Maria Larkin in last weekend’s national championships in Louth.

Two Irish riders competed in the junior men’s race, which was won by the Belgian Yordi Corsus. Joseph Mullen was delayed by a crash and Travis Harkness by a puncture. They finished 30th and 37th respectively.

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

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