Sam Bennett captured his maiden Tour de France win in emphatic fashion in Saint-Martin-de-Ré today becoming just the sixth Irishman to take a stage win at the race, joining Shay Elliott, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Martin Earley and Dan Martin. He also joined an elite group of riders with stage victories in all Grand Tours.
Bennett unleashed an uncontrollable outpouring of emotion as he slowly realised that he finally fulfilled a career-long dream of taking a stage victory at the biggest race in the world and thus following in the footsteps of Sean Kelly, the last Irishman to win a bunch sprint at the race, four decades ago.
“I don’t think it has hit me yet, I still can’t believe I’m a Tour de France stage winner,” said the first reigning Irish Champion to win a Tour de France stage. “I want to thank to the whole team for their confidence and support, to Patrick for giving me this opportunity, to my wife, my family and everyone around me. You dream of it and you never think it will happen, but then it does and you just need a while to sink in. I waited so many years for this to happen and I am so relieved and happy now.”
Fourth, second and third on the previous bunch sprints, Sam had a point to prove on Tuesday’s 168.5km stage and he did it after capitalising on his teammates’ incredible work and the flawless piloting skills of Michael Mørkøv. The Dane provided a masterful lead-out and dropped him off in an excellent position, from where the 29-year-old flew to his fifth victory of the season ahead of Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Peter Sagan (Bora hansgrohe), one which lifted him back into the green jersey.
“Being part of the Deceuninck – Quick-Step team is a huge opportunity for me and I wanted to deliver at the Tour de France, where so many great sprinters won for the Wolfpack. I can’t thank all the guys – my teammates, the mechanics, the soigneurs, the sports directors – enough, their help in achieving this was huge.”
“The team was incredible today, Michael was so calm and smooth going into the last kilometre, and I left it as late as possible knowing it was a headwind there. Everything was perfect today and this victory gives me a lot of confidence”, continued Sam, just the second Irish rider in history with stage victories in all Grand Tours, before talking of his green jersey ambitions.
“It’s special to wear it. Sean Kelly won it and it would make me super proud to be on the podium in Paris, but we’ll take it day by day and see where that takes us. What I can tell you for certain is that being here in the Irish Champion jersey and winning today is something I will always remember.”