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Bennett sets sights on realising Ras winning potential

Posted 22 February 2012

Three years after becoming the youngest ever rider to win a Rás stage Sam Bennett now believes that he has what it takes to achieve overall victory in the eight-day event for his An Post Sean Kelly team.

The 21 year old is almost certain to be named on the five-man team tasked with the challenge of emulating the success of Lithuanian teammate Gediminas Bagdonas who won last year’s race on the back of two stage wins.

“Working for Bagdonas last year was a great experience. I learned so much that week than ever in my career, about myself and how to ride races like that to win,” Bennett told Irish Pro Cycling.

His 2009 stage win in Clara was an emotional experience for the then 18 year old who has since matured and developed into one of the most exciting prospects in Irish cycling.

“Hopefully I can get another stage win this year but as long as the team has yellow at the end of the final day that is all that matters. Obviously I would like to win it myself and be the one wearing that jersey,” Bennett declared.

“I don’t see why it is not possible. I am strong enough to do it and if I get a bit of luck and strong support I can,” he added.

The Carrick-on-Suir sprinter is not shy of confidence or self-belief but is level headed enough not to make any wild predictions about what he can deliver.

“I will go into it open minded but it is unpredictable and you have to be lucky in the moves you get into. Anyone on this team is capable of winning the Rás,” he explained.

Bennett is acutely aware that a good season could see the Pro Tour teams knocking at his door and he is eager to fulfill his ambition which was thwarted by injury in 2011.

His success in winning the national under 23 road race championships for the first time that year while also finishing eighth in the elite race caught the attention of the Francaise des Jeux team.

Team manager Marc Madiot had been tracking his progress at the amateur VC La Pomme club and a visit to the Boucles de la Mayenne race in north-western France convinced the French legend to invite Bennett to join the team as a stagiaire.

A knee injury cruelly prevented him from taking up the offer and it was at this time that Sean Kelly and Kurt Bogaerts came to his assistance.

They arranged from him to be treated at the renowned Hartmann Sports Clinic at the University of Limerick before offering him a place on the team for the 2011 season.

“I lost so much that year but I had a good hard year last year with no interruptions,” said Bennett whose season highlights included another a win at the under 23 national road race championships, victory at the GP Stad Geel and second place on the opening stage of the Rás in Portuma.

While Bennett continues to classify himself as a sprinter he is working to improve his all round ability, a requirement which team director Sean Kelly himself has identified.

“I still classify myself as a sprinter but I have to build myself up as a stronger unit. If I can climb and time-trial better I will get to the end of all types of races fresher. The more often I can get to the end of races in good condition the more chances I will have of winning races and getting up there,” Bennett acknowledged.

“I want to get better as the years go on. I would love to develop as a rider and be strong enough to ride Pro Tour races and to be on a Pro Tour team. Getting a few wins is the best way to attract some interest from Pro Tour teams,” he said.

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