By July 15, 2008 Race Reports


By Bobby Power 

Sprint, climb, time-trial. To be a winner in the sport of cycling, you need to sprint faster than the rest in the final dash for the line, climb the steep mountains better than the rest, or power along faster than the rest in the individual time-trials. To be a champion cyclist, you need to be able to do all three. In winning the international Junior Tour of Ireland last week, Sam Bennett showed that he had all these qualities in abundance, as he dominated the race from start to finish and in the process beat some of the best junior cyclists from around the world.

USA, Canada, Holland, South Africa, Great Britain and Ireland – there was certainly an international line up for the six day Junior Tour, and with tough stages up to seventy miles, a mountain time trial and a mountain top finish it was like a mini Tour de France for these under eighteen year olds. As winner of the recent national championships, Bennett  led the strong Stena Ireland team, with his team-mate Philip Lavery also fancied to be a contender for overall honours, while the five teams from various regions in Britain contained all their top riders.
The race was based in the West of Ireland around Castlebar, and stage one was an individual time trial up the famous Windy Gap. This exposed climb suited the strongmen, and Dublin’s Marcus Christie set an excellent early target of 12 mins 35 secs. This looked good until Mark Christian of the Isle of Man went 7 seconds faster and this led until Sam Bennett, with race number one on his back, stormed up the climb to stop the clock just 0.13 of a second faster again and secure the yellow jersey of race leader.
This set the pattern for the rest of the event, with some great racing in tough weather conditions through the exposed West of Ireland countryside, but no matter what the opposition tried, Bennett always seemed to have that little bit extra. The yellow jersey passed to his team-mate Lavery on stage two , but at just three seconds behind Bennett was sitting pretty. Stage three finished in a mass bunch sprint, and here Bennett showed his bike handling skills and pure speed by bursting from the pack for a decisive stage victory. Stage four saw him back in the yellow jersey when the unfortunate Lavery had mechanical trouble, but it was on stage five that Bennett showed that he was clearly the strongest in the race.
This stage was a really tough 70 miles with the Windy Gap to be climbed twice, with the finish line at the top of the second ascent in real Tour de France style. The Stena Ireland team seemed in control even when nine riders broke clear with 30 miles remaining, but when the gap opened to over two minutes, Dominic Jelfs of British West Midlands was leader on the road as he had been only 1 min 12 secs behind overall starting the stage. Bennett’s team-mates tried their best but the gap was still 1 min 30 secs at the bottom of the final climb up to the finish, and he was being shadowed by second overall Mark Christian sitting on his wheel.
The privileged few who were there to witness Bennett in the yellow jersey climb the mountain described it as “awesome, incredible”. He simply put his bike in top gear and sprinted up the steep climb as if he was riding on the flat! Christian was blown away and the time gap to the leaders melted at an amazing rate. At the finish line Jelfs was second on the stage but the yellow jersey came storming round the final bend just 24 seconds behind, so Bennett not only retained but increased his overall lead in that decisive stage.
The final stage finished in a bunch sprint, and Bennett was content to free-wheel across the line in eight place, sitting up on his bike with both arms raised aloft in a final victory salute. His consistency and domination of the race was confirmed when he also won the points classification, so he was awarded both the green jersey and his final yellow jersey on the victory podium to the acclaim of the large crowd.
Sprint, climb, time-trial. Sam Bennett can do the lot!!