Sam Bennett missed out on a Tour de France start last year when his Bora-hansgrohe team passed him over for selection, but the squad has confirmed he is set to line out in the race this July.
“All is fine with Sam. When Sam stays healthy and will not have a big crack [drop in form] in the Dauphiné, he will be part of the Tour team,” Bora-hansgrohe Head of Performance Dan Lorang told The Irish Times on Wednesday.
Bennett is currently taking part in the Critérium du Dauphiné in France. Along with the Tour de Suisse, it is one of the two most typical preparation races for the Tour.
Lorang’s confirmation that Bennett should be at the Tour will be a relief for Irish cycling fans. The Carrick-on-Suir rider won two stages plus the green jersey in the 2020 edition, but missed the following year’s edition due to a knee injury.
He and Irish leadout man Ryan Mullen had expected to compete in the Tour last year, but were left on the sidelines when the team decided to mount a full general classification campaign with the Russian Aleksandr Vlasov.
Bennett’s form had been somewhat muted in the build-up to the race, although he did win the Eschborn-Frankfurt race on May 1st. The team later said that a victory between then and the Tour would have made his selection more likely.
This time around, Bennett’s status for the Tour had been unknown until now. He won on his first day of competition this year, taking stage one of the Vuelta a San Juan International on January 22nd. However he is yet to top the podium since then, notching up four second places and two third places in the months since, as well as three other top 10 finishes.
He was also second across the line on Tuesday’s stage four of the Critérium du Dauphiné but was later relegated due to drifting to the right in the sprint, something which appeared to impede others.
It remains to be seen if Mullen will make his debut in the Tour. Lorang told The Irish Times there is no decision as yet in relation to the younger rider’s participation.
Both Bennett and Mullen competed in the time trial on Wednesday’s stage, with the latter netting 23rd, 1′55 behind the winner Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates). Bennett kept his powder dry and finished further back.
Thursday’s stage is an undulating race to Salins-les-Bains. It includes a second category climb inside the final half-hour of racing, something Lorang feels will rule out a bunch sprint. “Tomorrow it will be hard to have a sprint stage, I think probably too hard,” he said.
The remaining three stages are all mountainous. Bjerg now leads overall, but is just 12 seconds ahead of the clear favourite, 2022 Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma). The Danish rider was second in Wednesday’s time trial and is regarded by many as the likely winner of the race.
As for Bennett, the remaining stages will be an important part of fine-turning his racing form before the Tour. The 32-year-old is determined to get back to his previous level in sprinting. He took two stage wins in last year’s Vuelta a España, his first Grand Tour victories since the 2020 Vuelta, but then had to leave the race due to Covid-19.