Needless to say, they love it at home. With every approach to Carrick-on-Suir, whether it’s from the Tipperary, Waterford or Kilkenny side, there are signs and posters that say “Come on Sam Bennett” and “Take him home Sam Bennett”. Stores still closed by Covid-19 carry the same messages. Her mother Helen is in high demand by the local media.
And quite right too. Bennett was a revelation on this tour. The 29-year-old, who rides for Belgian giant Deceuninck-QuickStep, was already well established as one of the best sprinters in the world before this race. But no one was to seriously challenge Peter Sagan, the three-time world champion, in the green jersey competition, which sees riders rack up points in intermediate sprints and finish lines. Sagan [Bora-Hansgrohe] has won seven of the last eight games, missing nothing in 2017 when he was controversially disqualified for knocking down Mark Cavendish in the barriers.
The Slovakian’s strength is not so much his now waning sprint ability, but his climbing ability, which allows the 30-year-old to collect intermediate sprint points on the more hilly stages when pure sprinters are let loose. .
Bennett, however, has proven more than a match for him. He put on the green jersey after his very first stage victory on the Ile de Ré. And he simply refused to leave, consistently outshining Sagan every time they clashed and going into survival mode in the mountains.
He suffered terribly for his labors. Every day the road climbed, there was a chance for the Irishman to miss the cut of the day.
But when Bennett – who wasn’t even born when Kelly won the last of those green jerseys – not only survived Friday’s 19th stage at Champagnole, but made the breakaway, then finished eighth in the reduced sprint of the platoon up to Sagan’s ninth, his job was everything. but done.
“I think when I arrive on the Champs Elysées [on Sunday], for this first round, wearing the green, it’s going to be incredible, ”said Bennett after completing the time trial on Saturday at La Planche des Belles Filles. “I will probably have a tear in my eyes.”
He can’t afford to be too emotional. There is still, in theory, a small chance that he does not win. With 70 points up for grabs and his lead of 69, Sagan could give him a boost if he wins all the points from the middle and finish line and Bennett ends up nowhere. Carrick-on-Suir can rest easy. There is no way that will happen. Apart from all that, it has been over a year since Sagan won a race of any kind. And Bennett loves the scene himself. “I’m ready,” he said on Saturday night. Ireland too. The Emerald Isle is about to get greener than ever.