I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Wait — why are we crying? We’re all crying because Sam Bennett was crying.
Bennett, the Irish sprinter on Deceuninck–Quick-Step, fought back tears midway through his post-race television interview after he won Tuesday’s 10th stage of the Tour de France in a hectic sprint into Île de Ré. Seb Piquet, the longtime host of Radio Tour, asked Bennett if the grandeur of his first Tour de France victory had set in, and Bennett was simply overcome by the moment.
Bennett sat, unable to speak, as the emotion washed over him.
Watch the video below and prepare for the waterworks.
“You dream of it and you never think it will happen. It did, and I don’t know, it took me a while before it hit me,” Bennett said. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be a crybaby.”
No apologies needed, Sam Bennett. Your emotion is a welcomed sight at this nervous and uncertain pressure cooker of a Tour de France.
Over the past 10 days we’ve watched the race unfold under the storm clouds of COVID-19, and we have nervously twisted our hands while seeing overhead images of fans alongside the roads and crowds on the mountains. We’ve no doubt asked ourselves whether it’s been worth it to hold this Tour at all — a legitimate question that should be asked.
Amid all of this tension and nerves, Bennett’s tears of joy on an otherwise drab Tuesday morning is a reminder of the happiness and joy that this race can bring to the lives of the riders and fans watching at home.
And there’s a compelling backstory to Bennett’s tears. His emotion undoubtedly sprung from the years of disappointment and setback that Bennett weathered as he waited for his moment to shine at the Tour. Bennett is back at the Tour de France after a four-year hiatus, now at the not-so-tender age of 29, which is well past middle-aged in pro cycling’s topsy-turvy sprint ranks. For years Bennett has banged bars with the fastest sprinters, however he’s struggled to get opportunities at grand tours.
There are no guarantees in pro cycling, of course, and for several years there it seemed as though Sam Bennett might never race the Tour again. That’s a huge setback for an Irishman who grew up in the hometown of Tour legend Sean Kelly.
Why was Bennett a Tour no-show? Bennett came of age on the German pro team that in 2017 became the Bora-Hansgrohe squad of the sport’s biggest superstar, Peter Sagan. And when you’re the sprinter on Peter Sagan’s team, it’s a bit like being the backup quarterback to Tom Brady. Sure, you can hope and dream of one day playing in the Super Bowl, but in all likelihood, you will be a benchwarmer as long as you’re on the team.
Thus, Bennett watched from the sidelines as Sagan gobbled up Tour de France stage wins, year after year. Would his opportunity to win ever come at the Tour de France? He didn’t know.
Perhaps that’s why Bennett told us he “felt disposable” in today’s market for sprinters.
A steady contract is hard to secure in pro cycling, and at the end of 2019 Bennett seemed destined to stay at Bora-Hansgrohe for the coming years, even though he was continually passed over. The German team had discovered a GC threat in Emanuel Buchmann and another sprint star in Pascal Ackermann, and the two German stars jumped ahead of Bennett in the pecking order. The Tour, it seemed, might never happen.
“The thing is, you are not considered a top sprinter unless you win at the Tour,” Bennett said in late 2019. “And especially when you are negotiating a contract—without that, it is like you are not up there. That’s even though I can beat all the guys that have won stages there.”
But at the end of 2019 a lifeline opened up, as they often do, amid pro cycling’s transfer window. Elia Viviani, the star sprinter at Deceuninck–Quick-Step, left the Belgian team for a heftier paycheck at Cofidis. The move left a gaping hole in the Belgian team’s plug-and-play sprint train. Over the past few years, the team’s so-called “Wolf Pack” has acted as a kingmaker for sprinters: Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Fernando Gaviria, and Viviani.
All Bennett had to do was force his way out of Bora-Hansgrohe. He had reportedly signed a letter of intent to stay with Bora-Hansgrohe, even though he sought a new job with Deceuninck–Quick-Step. Lawyers got involved, and the case went to the UCI’s arbitration panel. In the end, Bennett was given the OK to leave, but only after months of uncertainty.
Tuesday’s stage win was confirmation that the stress, the lawyers, and the uncertainty were all worth it for Sam Bennett.
But then there was the added pressure of racing and actually winning on Deceuninck–Quick-Step. What fate would greet Bennett if he became the only sprinter to plug-in and not win on the Belgian squad? Tuesday’s win erased such a grim reality.
“It’s a relief when there are so many great sprinters that pass through this team and delivered here. I needed this — to come to the Tour de France and deliver for this team after Deceuninck–Quick-Step and Patrick [Lefevere] gave me this amazing opportunity,” Bennett said after the stage. “I really wanted to deliver for them and also for my teammates who worked superbly for me all day. The mechanics, the soigneurs, even the press officer, the whole team, the whole wolf pack.”
Yep, it was a whirlwind of pressure, self-doubt, legal struggles, and waiting, and it produced a whirlwind of emotion inside Sam Bennett.