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Sam Bennett

International cyclist

If you have been reading the cycling reports for the last couple of years you would have read about a rising young star from Carrick-on-Suir called Sam Bennett. The Carrick Wheelers teenager caught the eye of many experts when he won a stage of the Rás last summer. In doing so, Bennett became the youngest ever cyclist to win a stage.

Sam was born in Belgium to Irish parents. Sport is in his blood. His dad, Michael, played soccer for Ireland and despite wanting his son to take up the game, Sam took to the roads instead.

“My dad did a lot of cycling when I was younger as he had knee injuries and this was his way of keeping fit. That’s where my love for cycling actually came from – I would cycle with him,” recalls Sam, who never actually kicked a football in anger.
By the age of nine he was begging Paul Lonergan of the Carrick Wheelers to let him join the older boys climbing hills. According to Paul, secretary of the cycling club, his potential was obvious immediately.

“Although he was supposed to be 10 when he started, he was just nine. But it didn’t make any difference, he was beating all the older lads from the first day. We knew he was special,” says Paul.

Right now, Sam is attending UCD, studying Sports Science. Usually a three-year course, Sam is doing it in stages, spending September to December in college and the rest of the time on his bike. This allows him to concentrate on cycling when he needs to and gives him a little time off when he needs that also.

But Sam’s goals are similar to those of his hero, Carrick-on-Suir’s Sean Kelly. He wants to ride in the big races and he wants to make a living as a professional cycling. But he is in no rush.

“I have signed to a French amateur team and will race with them next year. I am in no hurry to turn professional. Some fellas go pro too quickly and burn out as a result but I intend to take my time and ensure that my body is ready for that,” says Sam, a young man with a good head on his shoulders.

“When I was younger my dad always made sure I didn’t cycle too many miles. Young lads want to take long spins but I always kept my work short and sharp. “Your body will be able for the big miles when you are young so you don’t need to push it. I didn’t go past 10 miles until I was 16,” states young Bennett.

Cycling is a serious and intensive sport at the top. It can be lonely and it has many hardships. Although still an amateur, albeit a very promising one, Sam Bennett, even while he is away from cycling and at college, has to let drug testers know where he will be from 6pm to 11pm every day. He has been drug-tested many times. How does he feel about drugs in the sport?

“No sport is tested more than cycling. The governing bodies spend a fortune on testing and they are very serious about kicking drugs out of the sport,” says Sam.
And what about the lonely life of a long distance cyclist?

“It is a bit lonely when I am over in France. Everyone is friendly but I am taking a spot from someone over there, so I am on my own. But you have to be able to stand on your own two feet,” says the determined young man.

Racing bikes for Sam’s level of competition cost between €6,000 and €12,000, a little more than the racer your young fella might want for Christmas, but then very few are in Sam’s class.
European Junior champion, All-Ireland champion and a winner of a Rás stage, beating into second a man that had won four stages in the Tour de France! All this and he isn’t 19 years of age until this Friday.

They know all about Sam around Carrick. He might be the next Sean Kelly. Like Kelly, he is being groomed as a sprinter and, like Kelly, he is tough.

Sam knows Sean (“Sean is sound and a great help to me), and knows the expectations that surround him, but few teenagers have his tunnel vision and confidence. The name should be stored away. Sam Bennett, pride of the Carrick Wheelers.