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Bennett to ride as stagiaire with Francaise des Jeux

Posted 28 June 2010

New Irish national U.23 road race champion Sam Bennett capped off a memorable weekend at home today with confirmation that he is to join the professional ranks as a stagiaire with the Francaise des Jeux team.

The 19 year old rising star told Irish Pro Cycling that he will join the French team in August having impressed team manager Marc Madiot who has been tracking his progress at the amateur VC La Pomme club for a number of months.

Bennett returns to his French base in Marseille today having underlined his talent at Sunday’s national road race championship in Sligo where he finished eighth in the elite race on his way to winning his first U.23 national title.

The Carrick-on-Suir teenager was unaware that Madiot had travelled to last week’s Boucles de la Mayenne race in north west France to inspect his talent and that he had been in the VC La Pomme team car when he rode the prologue time trial.

Madiot was impressed enough with what he seen to make Bennett an offer of riding as a stagiaire with the team which is understood to be working to build a new generation of riders having just signed a four year extension of its sponsorship with the French national lottery.

The offer affords Bennett an apprenticeship and opportunity to try his hand in all but Pro Tour races with the very real potential of being offered a fulltime contract at the end of the season.

“It was a shock to the system. It just came out of nowhere. The opportunity has come sooner than expected and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” the new U.23 national champion explained.

Bennett is confident that he can step up a level but is equally conscious about the dangers of leaping into the pro ranks before he is fully ready to do so having devised a development strategy with long time coach and manager Martin O’Loughlin.

“I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I’m not saying I would like to be able to win at will but I would like to be able to go into it with the intention of getting the results rather than being lucky.

“The races that I am going to be going into you need that element of luck and everything to go your way to win. I will be racing against people who are more consistent and that bit more experienced.

“I am doing 12 to 14 hours a week including racing. Some weeks I’m doing twenty but I know that to step up I’m going to have to do extra hours. I would like to step it up to Pro Continental. Each year the aim is to progress to another level. Going Pro Tour is a huge leap so I will not be hugely disappointed to leave it for another year if it happened that I was not ready at the end of it.

“I’m still trying to decide whether it is in my best interests to go (pro) this year or next. I want to look long-term. I could go this year and be burned out in a year or two, so that is in my mind,” he said.

Bennett was impressed by Francaise des Jeux’s interest in working with him to develop his career and expects that this will be a big factor in making a final decision if he is fortunate to be offered a contract.

“They understand that I’m young and they want to work with me to progress me. They want to bring me to training camps and put the right programme in place. They say that they want to develop that with my interests in mind,” he said.

His good impression of the team is shared by his manager. “This is very much the ‘getting to know you’ phase. Sam is still nineteen and this is another stage in learning his trade. He is not locked into signing with Francaise des Jeux and the jury is out as to whether or not he will wait another year before going pro, but there is no doubt that he will go pro in the future,” O’Loughlin said.

Bennett meanwhile is delighted to return to V.C. La Pomme with the Irish U.23 national road race champion’s jersey, even though he confesses to being disappointed not to have made the top three in the elite race.

“I was very happy with the win in the U.23. I would have liked to have been in the top three overall. I aimed for the highest overall placing and knew that if I did well overall that the U23 title would come, but I feel I could have done a few things differently.

“With one and half laps to go I was covering moves from Dan (Martin) and (David) O’Loughlin. They kept attacking and they got away from me. I got a touch of cramp and had to sit back into the saddle which was disappointing.

“I was happy with the way I rode and with the result. Don’t get me wrong. I’m disappointed it didn’t go better but I’m delighted to be going back to France with the title,” he said.

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