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Expectation, goosebumps and the Champs-Élysées: Bennett savours iconic Tour victory

‘All the years trying to come up, trying to make it… It took me so long to get here,’ said Sam Bennett, now a winner of the Tour the France green jersey.

Sam Bennett of Ireland, wearing the best sprinter's green jersey, celebrates on the podium in Paris.
Sam Bennett of Ireland, wearing the best sprinter's green jersey, celebrates on the podium in Paris.
Image: Stephane Mantey

SAM BENNETT SAVOURED every moment — or most of them, anyway.

The Carrick-on-Suir native on Sunday evening became the first Irishman to win the Tour de France green jersey — or indeed a jersey of any colour at any of the three Grand Tours — in 31 years, while the last man to do it, Sean Kelly, called the feat live on Eurosport.

Bennett became only the sixth ever competitor to ride into Paris wearing green and win the final stage, spectacularly rubber-stamping a remarkable three weeks which saw him take green with almost 100 points to spare over seven-time winner and former team-mate Peter Sagan.

france-cycling-tour-de-france Sam Bennett takes it home in the final stage. Source: Franck Faugere

Bennett’s first stage victory, during the 10th stage a fortnight and many mountains ago, resulted in a post-race interview in which he was overcome by the weight of his achievement, fighting tears and struggling to give answers.

There were fewer tears after his crowning moment but even more elation, the 29-year-old a picture and sound of excitement as he contended with his overall sprint points victory and a sensational second stage win in the French capital.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” Bennett said.

Like, green jersey, Champs-Élysées, world championships of sprinting… I never thought I’d ever be able to win this stage and to do it in green is so special.

“And to do it too with my dream team, Deceuninck-QuickStep – the way the boys rode all day, they were fantastic. Aw, it’s just so amazing, the feeling… I can’t thank everyone enough.

“Aw man, all the suffering through the mountains — so worth it now,” Bennett added. “All the years trying to come up, trying to make it… It took me so long to get here. I’m sorry if I’m coming across too arrogant or anything, I just want to enjoy every moment of it.”

france-cycling-tour-de-france Bennett celebrates his victory and is congratulated by competitors, including Peter Sagan. Source: Franck Faugere

Recounting the eight-lap final stage and a mad last dash around the Champs, Bennett revealed there were several moments in which he felt he may have made tactical errors, and explained how his QuickStep team-mates contributed heavily to his coming home first.

The doubts were there until mere metres before the line, with Bennett already pumping his first and roaring in celebration as he crossed it.

“We were riding on the front coming in and I was feeling the legs a bit,” he said. “I was like, ‘Ohhh, I’m after messing this up a bit,’ you know? ‘I’m after using up too much of my legs.’

“Dries [Devenyns] came up, he said, ‘Do you want to go back with Michael [Morkov]? It’s a little bit easier in the bunch. And I was a little bit nervous because the last time I was in Champs-Élysées, I think somebody came down on the back strait and broke their collar bone. So, I was nervous about riding in the bunch because it was really fast — it doesn’t seem like it on TV but it’s fast downhill.

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“But I went back and I thought I had one lap to go but then they said on the radio, ‘Two laps to go,’ so I was like, ‘Oh, okay, I’ve time to recover.’

“Then, the boys… We waited, waited, waited, the boys controlled the race, we came in under the tunnel first and then I was thinking, ‘Oh, we’re too early, too early!’ And then Trek[-Segfredo] would try to push up and we’re kind of holding, holding…

“Then, coming to the last corner, Morkov started to open up, we had each side covered. And I let Trek come up because I felt from the lap before that, it was a bit of a headwind. So, I let them go first, I waited, and I opened up when [Jaspers] Stuyven came off the front for [Mads] Pedersen.

“I had a bike length to run at his wheel so I ran at that and came out on the other side where it was smooth.

I thought there was going to be somebody who would come past me but I can’t believe I got it!

france-cycling-tour-de-france Bennett celebrates with overall race winner Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia. Source: Christophe Ena

A glorious Tour but a tough one, mentally as much as physically: in a separate post-race interview, Bennett recounted some of the more special moments when prompted to do so by the interviewer, and also fielded questions about the pressure he faced while wearing green throughout the second half of the race.

It was a new type of pressure generated by well-wishers back home in Ireland which weighed on him most, but couldn’t prevent him from producing an instantly iconic Irish sporting moment as he powered to the finish in Paris.

“It was such a difficult Tour for me but it was so worth it and I enjoyed the battle.

A very special moment was coming into the Champs-Élysées wearing green… I got goosebumps. And then, the moment when I hit the front coming to the line, that feeling was amazing.

“And then, also — I know I’m thinking of a lot of moments — but having that support from the team and seeing the effort they were putting in for me, and for the whole team… It was amazing. I’m so proud of the boys.

I did feel pressure. Often the most pressure I get is from myself. But when I got so much support from home, the pressure from expectation is something that I’d never felt before. It was a whole new pressure and that was hard to deal with at times as well, and to perform with that expectation.

“But to pull it off, there, I’m so proud.”

As for what he’ll do for the next few days? “Probably recover from a hangover!” Bennett laughed. “Nah, nah, just enjoy the moment, and I have a funny feeling that the team are going to hit me with a race programme and I’m going to have to keep working!”

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