01 Oct 2022

Tipperary's Tour de France hero Sam Bennett is 'a great ambassador'

Carrick-on-Suir man talks about the agony and ecstasy of world's most famous cycling race

Sam Bennett Civic Reception

Present at the Civic Reception were, from left, Sam Bennett’s mother-in-law Gabrielle Fogarty, his wife Tara Bennett, Sam Bennett and his parents, Helen and Michael Bennett. Picture: John D Kelly

The pressure he experienced in the week leading to his historic Tour de France green jersey success in 2020 was so intense that he only slept for between three and five hours each night, Sam Bennett has revealed.
At that stage, he said he was operating on “pure adrenalin”.
“The pressure of expectation was really building up at home as well. It was a new type of pressure, I was aware of it on social media, no matter how much I tried to turn the phone off.”
When he was at the head of the bunch, just five metres from the finish line in the final stage of the race on the Champs Élysées in Paris - “one of the three dream races to win” - and practically within touching distance of a famous triumph, he was wondering “where is the guy coming from who is going to beat me”.
But no one else could match his finish to deny the 31-year-old, Monaco-based Carrick-on-Suir cyclist a second stage win, the green jersey as the race’s leading points rider, or his place in sporting history.
These were just some of the many fascinating insights into his historic triumph, and into the mind of an elite sportsperson, that Sam Bennett shared when he was accorded a Civic Reception by Tipperary County Council, an event that was broadcast online.
Sam said he was “on another level” when he crossed the finish line that memorable September day in 2020.
“I was just shaking my head. I couldn’t believe it was happening. The bike isn’t heavy and I haven’t big arms but I lifted the bike over my head.”
He met his wife Tara at the finish - the couple are expecting their first child, a son, in the next month - before enjoying the moment with his team mates at the bus and celebrating “with a good Irish whiskey”.
He said winning the final stage on the Champs Élysées - that afternoon the iconic Paris avenue was the centre of the sporting world - was “one of the best moments of my career. It’s the one that all the sprinters want to win”.
Cycling around the roads of France in the early autumn didn’t offer much of an opportunity to enjoy the scenery or the countryside - “I can tell you just how the road is” - but he admitted that on the first lap of the Champs Élysées on the final stage, “you hear the crowds and it’s just a great atmosphere”.
With jets trailing plumes of smoke in the red, white and blue colours of France behind them, he said “the atmosphere is like nothing else, it’s like you’re entering a stadium”.
As he approached the finish he was “in a zone”. In his peripheral vision he could see who was behind and beside him and he knew how to judge his sprint finish to compete with the capabilities of those other riders.
“I knew the wind direction, the gradient of the road, what line to take and all the information I needed.”
There were a lot of calculations going on and a change of tactics saw him “follow another train”, a switch that incredibly happened over 50 metres in the space of five seconds. “Everything came together on the day,” he says.
He confessed that he should have come home and enjoyed the moment but he was already looking towards the next race. He also admitted that he might need to relax more, but his current approach had brought him to where he is today.
When his father Michael said that his son would be more comfortable in himself having won the green jersey and two stages of the Tour - “he can have no higher accolade (as a sprinter),” Sam replied: “I’m always looking for more, I’m greedy!”
The Civic Reception was an occasion for Michael and Sam’s mother Helen to reflect on his childhood and his early interest in cycling.
There was the story about the tricycle he received for his first Christmas, how Helen had him on the back of her bike doing her shopping in Belgium (where Sam was born), and how he was riding a bike without stabilisers by the age of two. Helen still sends him a text on the morning of every race and is delighted when she receives a thumbs-up emoji in return.
Michael, who was a professional footballer with Eendracht Wervick in Belgium, cycled as part of his recovery from a cruciate knee ligament injury and brought Sam cycling with him, “probably a lot further than he should have been”.
The family returned home to Carrick-on-Suir, Michael’s home town, when Sam was five (younger brother Scott was born in Carrick) and during a holiday at their mobile home in Clonea they met somebody who cycled in Kanturk and they later brought their son to the north Cork town to cycle.
Michael said in the early days they were grateful for the financial support from family members and the people of Carrick-on-Suir for Sam’s equipment and travel.
Sam said he wouldn’t be in the position he is today without the support of people in his hometown of Carrick-on-Suir and the county, and they had always backed him.
He also confessed that when he was younger he thought that Sean Kelly was just the name of a sports centre in Carrick! Joining the Civic Reception via Zoom, his fellow Carrick man Sean Kelly - the last Irishman before Sam to win the Tour de France green jersey - said they had heard from an early age that he would be a great rider. But they had heard that before about other cyclists who only got so far and never made it.
Sam had the potential, he got there and with his performances last year had proved he was one of the top sprinters in the world of professional cycling, Sean added.
Joe MacGrath, CEO of Tipperary County Council, said that sometimes as a county, and a country, we were guilty of thanking people when it was too late. But it was wonderful to be able to recognise Sam on this occasion.
2020 hadn’t been a great year and we looked for something to give us a lift and Sam Bennett had given us that opportunity, said Mr MacGrath.
County Council Cathaoirleach Marie Murphy thanked Sam for the major honour he had brought to Carrick-on-Suir and Tipperary.
Carrick councillor David Dunne suggested that the new park they were hoping to develop in Carrickbeg should be named in his honour.
Fellow Carrick councillor Kieran Bourke said that Sam Bennett was a great ambassador for his sport, his family and Carrick-on-Suir.
Paul Collins of Ballywire Media, the MC for the reception, asked Sam what advice he would offer to any boys or girls hoping to make it as a professional cyclist.
He replied: “I have a saying that I always follow - ‘everything you want is outside your comfort zone’ - and that can be adapted to suit everything in life, whether it’s a job or a (university or college) degree.
“If it’s cycling, just go out and enjoy the bike and it will come to you.”

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