Irish Champion caps off an unforgettable edition with a brilliant victory in Paris
Sam Bennett rode straight into the history books on the Champs-Élysées Sunday evening, as he carried home the race’s prestigious green jersey, a fantastic performance that Ireland had last witnessed at the end of the ‘80s, when Sean Kelly was finishing at the top of the points classification. Hailing from the same Carrick-on-Suir village as his idol, Sam returned this year at the Tour de France for the first time in 2016 and he made it count, setting several milestones along the way and elevating himself to cycling immortality.
After breaking the ice on stage 10 in Île de Ré, Sam began growing in confidence as he realised he has a fair shot at taking the prestigious green jersey, and helped by a team that turned inside out for him on the flat but also on the mountains, he made it all the way to Paris, where he put the icing on the cake on the most iconic finish venue in cycling, just as the sun was setting down over the French capital.
Once again, Deceuninck – Quick-Step gave him a superb lead-out, with Michael Mørkøv dropping him off in a perfect position, from where Sam Bennett dashed to victory, our squad’s 99th in a Grand Tour, as he became the first Irishman in history to triumph on the Champs-Élysées: “I feel amazing, I can’t tell you how happy I am! I never thought I would be in this position one day. I grew up watching these Champs-Élysées sprints filmed from every angle and to do it myself now in the green jersey it’s unbelievable! It’s the best victory of my career. It’s something I will remember and treasure for the rest of my life, especially as I did it in the green jersey, which I never dreamed of winning.”
Sam – who showed a remarkable consistency and fighting spirit over the past three weeks, two important factors which helped him become the second Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider to conquer the green jersey, after Tom Boonen in 2007 – took us through the hectic last kilometer in Paris: “It was really fast and I was a bit nervous, but the boys flawlessly controlled the race and brought me to the front when it mattered. On the final straight, I let other riders come up, because I felt some headwind, and then I opened my sprint with 150-200 meters to go. As I came on the other side, I thought someone was going to come pass me, but it didn’t happen and I still can’t believe I won.”
Deceuninck – Quick-Step concluded the Tour de France again as one of the top performers and entertainers, with three stage wins, three days in the yellow jersey – which Julian Alaphilippe sported following his thrilling victory in Nice on the opening weekend – 13 days in the green jersey and two prizes for the most combative rider of the stage, awarded to the same Alaphilippe and French ITT Champion Rémi Cavagna.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele / Getty Images