He’s 23 years old, Irish, can climb and sprint. He’s got people making the easy comparison to Sean Kelly, but it’s unfair to compare him to anyone just now, lets just say he’s the 1st Sam Bennett!
2013 was a breakthrough season for him and in particular 2 events, An Post Ras and the Tour of Britain.
He won 2 stages in Ireland and started the Tour of Britain in high spirits.
Riding for the An Post-Chainreaction team, he didn’t disappoint. He was a brilliant 2nd on stage 2, just being pipped by Gerald Ciolek, on a steep, uphill finish. He got his well deserved win on stage 5, beating Golas in the sprint after surviving 2 ascents of Caerphilly Mountain. In the final stage, he beat the other sprinters, but not Cavendish.
His brilliant performance landed him a contract with Team NetApp-Endura in 2014. This team seems perfect to allow him to grow and maybe turn into the next big star of Irish cycling.
Here is an interview I did with Sam:-
2013 was a breakthrough season for you, with 2 stages in An Post Ras and a stage win in the Tour of Britain. Looking back, how did you rate your season?
To be honest it is just a big relief! I always made sure that I believed in my ability because I think that is important. The last few years I’ve had a lot of bad luck and I just couldn’t get the consistency I needed to build and grow as a rider. Therefore the results were not coming(I think). I felt in the second half of the year, especially, I kind of discovered myself a bit, then the results just started to come. I wanted to progress and move up a level so bad I took every single opportunity in races that I could. It came together and now I’m proud to be riding for NetApp-Endura this year!
How special was it to win stages in Ireland?
It was brilliant. As an An Post-Chainreaction rider it is a very difficult race! We have one of our sponsors that also sponsors the race, so we have to perform and the other riders know this and take advantage. It’s also our home race and we like to show what we can do. So when you come out with some results it feels great but it wouldn’t have happened without good team work.
You had a wonderful Tour of Britain, helping you to land a move to Team NetApp – Endura. On stage 2, your teammates delivered you perfectly to the front of the race as you hit the final climb and you let rip! You opened a big gap on the field. Did you think you were going to win?
It was a very hard day, the weather made it so. It was just so wet and cold. We had Sean Downey in the move all day picking up some points, so the rest of us just had to sit in and wait until the later stages of the race. It was together in the last 10km and a high tempo just kicked in, that was very sore on the body until we got into the rhythm. Mark Mcnally and Nicolas Vereecken did a great job for me that day. We just hit the front at the right time and the boys just held the bikes upright on the corner. We actually didn’t expect the hill to be as steep or long as we were told it was 300m from the last corner(it was 500m). I kicked hard but I was in too big a gear, the day before I crashed and bent my rear hanger so the gears jumped on anything lighter so I just had to grind it. I looked up to expect some indication of a finish line but it was still 300m and I had completely emptied myself! I was waiting for guys to come around me because I didn’t think I had a gap. At 100m I saw that it was only Ciolek behind me. I tried to get a quick breather to kick again but I was totally empty. I was happy because I thought I could only do flat fast finishes, I never knew I could do a finish like that! But at the end of a day who races to come second.
What went through your head when Ciolek went past you?
Nein nein nein nein!!! Haha. Don’t let him past, don’t let him past. Ok then, he is past. . . don’t let anyone else past, don’t let anyone else past! God this is sore!!
2nd place was obviously a great result, but was it hard to take psychologically, after being so close to a win?
I wanted to take a stage win, but I set a goal of a podium. So my morale was high and it gave me great confidence. I had more belief in myself and after being so close I wanted more! I didn’t know how or when but I had to go one better!
Stage 3 was the ITT and you finished 22nd, just 2 seconds behind Quintana, this was a good result, but what do you think about your TT ability?
I’m not a good time trialist. If I really, really have to, I can squeeze something out but I have never practised it or even have a TT position. I just went into it afraid of being put out of the time limit by Wiggo. At the same time I wanted to save my legs for a stage win, I also did not want to crash in the wet. I was very surprised to finish 22nd, maybe I should have really tried 110%.
Stage 5 was your big moment, winning the stage to Caerphilly. How hard was the climb?
It was hard, I’m not going to act the big man and say it wasn’t bad. But the way it was controlled made it good. Maybe there was a bit more in the legs for it, but I only need to show them in the last 100m.
What was it like climbing beside Wiggins, Martin and Quintana?
It was cool. I knew Dan and Quintana would be attacking on it along with others so I was afraid to put up my hands at finish just in case someone was in fact ahead. But it was nice to be there with them.
Did you notice the crazy fans?
It was amazing all week! They really made the race! Absolutely class! But they are so dangerous and they haven’t a clue. Standing out on the road, with a roaring peloton fighting for position, and on the climb when you are on the limit you get a little on the grumpy side when they won’t move!
You seemed to pick a much better line in the sprint than Golas, had you pre-planned this?
Nope, I knew how to position myself in the finish but I just went through whatever gap came to me! Without a train you have to be able to think on your feet.
You are a fast sprinter, it must be really pleasing for you to get over these climbs?
Yes I was happy because it means in a hilly race I could be there when other sprinters are not but even when they are, I should be conserving more energy on the climb for the finish.
You finished 10th on stage 7, which ended with an uphill sprint, on cobbles. How did you find sprinting on the cobbles?
It was grand, but it was just my positioning coming into the finish. The boys did a great job and Shane Archbold absolutely killed himself to put me in a good position, but we just kept getting swamped. We can’t get it right every day.
The final stage saw you finish 2nd behind Cavendish. How did it feel beating Viviani?
It is great to be mixing it with these guys but I wasn’t thinking about who I had beaten. I was thinking about who I didn’t beat.
Just how fast is Cavendish in a sprint?
He is who he is for a reason. I’m sure if he felt threatened he would have just kicked again.
You have now joined Team NetApp-Endura. What races are you looking forward to the most?
I don’t have anything in particular yet. Guys just mention a race and I’m just thinking awesome, we get to ride that!
You can sprint and climb, what type of rider do you see yourself developing into?
In my head all I want to be is a pure sprinter, but being able to climb it maybe is a tool that can help me use my sprint better or it might be something I could take to another level. I’m not going to fight my body type. I will just try to grow as a rider, see where it takes me and just use my strong points to get the best results possible.
Will you be riding a grand tour in 2014, wildcard permitting?
I’ve been told that if my form is good enough and all goes well I may have a shot. We will have to see what happens.
What are your goals for 2014?
I want to continue to progress and mature as a rider. I would like to gain consistency in my form and in results. I would also like to bring success to NetApp-Endura, whether it is with me or by helping other riders!