AT 21 YEARS of age, Sam Bennett speaks with a level-headedness that belies his youth.
He is regarded as an up-and-coming prospect in the Irish cycling scene, having won the national U23 cycling championship for the past two consecutive years.
The modesty and maturity of someone so highly touted is somewhat surprising, and Bennett credits legendary Irish cyclist Sean Kelly, among others, with keeping his feet firmly on the floor.
“Sean Kelly has always looked after me,” he says. “He is always open and willing to provide support.”
And his guidance is obviously paying off, as Bennett was recently selected to participate in the Rás, as part of the An Post–Sean Kelly UCI Continental Team, alongside other promising Irish cyclists including Ronan McLaughlin and Connor McConvey.
He expresses enthusiasm for the event, which takes place between May 20 and May 27, though suggests there is an extra sense of responsibility for him to perform well.
“The fact that it’s a home race and a chance to come back home adds to the pressure,” he says. “But it would be particularly nice to do well in Ireland and keep the sponsors happy.”
Bennett is also keen to praise his An Post–Sean Kelly teammates, citing McLaughlin in particular, as a burgeoning talent, and modestly expressing hope that “we can do good things this year”.
He adds: “It’s a very strong team overall, so hopefully we can take a stage or two home.”
And although Bennett admits that he hasn’t had the best of seasons, he believes that he is coming good just in time for Sunday’s opening stage.
“Thankfully, I’ve been able to build a bit of form over the last few weeks. I didn’t have a good start to the season, but I’m starting to get a few results now.
Conversely, earlier this year, he suffered a loss of form, which he ultimately puts down to a combination of “inexperience” and “bad luck”.
“I think I overstepped it with the training,” he elaborates. “The fact that it was -14 degrees didn’t help, but it was my own fault really.”
Bennett is optimistic that he can enjoy a long and distinguished career, and given his early promise from junior level on, there seems no reason as to why he can’t fulfill these ambitions.
But ultimately, in terms of both short-term and long-term goals, he says he is reluctant to set specific targets.
“I go into every race trying to get the best result I can overall. I go into the race open-minded. And my long-term plan is just to get to the highest level I can. And hopefully, I can make a living out of it and try to make as much progress as possible.
“I don’t set myself any particular targets, I just analyse the race and move on.”