Kanturk Cycling Club has a strong link to Tour de France hero Sam Bennett

Kanturk Cycling Club has a strong link to Tour de France hero Sam Bennett

Ireland's Sam Bennett, wearing the best sprinters green jersey. Picture: AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool

O’LEARY Stone Kanturk Cycling Club has consistently produced champion cyclists, with many of its young stars subsequently going on to make an impact on the world stage.

It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, to learn that Sam Bennett was on the Cork club’s ranks, during his younger days. Ireland’s Tour de France hero raced in the green (and blue) of Kanturk CC, for four seasons, at underage level.

This autumn, he reached the pinnacle of world cycling, when winning in the green jersey on the Champs-Élysées, in Paris. Bennett finished the world’s greatest bike race with two stage wins to his name, and his performances in the sprints saw him crowned leading rider on the overall points classification.

Bennett became the first Irish rider, since his fellow Carrick-on-Suir native, Sean Kelly, in 1989, to win green at Le Tour. Wrapping up the points classification title with a stage win in the ‘sprinters’ world championship’ capped the best moment Irish cycling has witnessed for many, many years.

Dan Curtin has been the driving force behind O’Leary Stone Kanturk CC, since the club was founded, almost 30 years ago. He has helped many Kanturk riders to develop their talents over the years, but witnessing Bennett, who he coached as a teenager, winning the green jersey at the Tour de Frannce, ranks as the highlight.

“We have had some great moments down in Kanturk. We have been very lucky. This is one of the greatest years. He started in Kanturk, where green is in our colours.

“It was lovely to see him getting green in the Tour de France! I had a few words with him the day after. I was just talking to him for five or 10 minutes. He’s over the moon and that was the big thing. What more can you say? Especially with a Carrick man (Kelly) winning it before; I was cycling that time myself.

“It’s brilliant for cycling in Ireland. It’s up to Cycling Ireland now to capitalise on it and to progress the thing on, which they didn’t do when Kelly and (1987 TDF winner, Stephen) Roche were flying.

“We are hoping that when he comes back, at the end of November, December, we can bring him to Kanturk. But this Covid thing is upsetting everything and it’s very hard to make plans,’’ Dan said.

Sam Bennett (centre), after winning the 2019 Men's Elite Road Race National title, in Derry, with Kanturk CC members past and present; Club Secretary, Joan Curtin, 2019 Men's Junior Champion, Tom Moriarty, 2019 U23 National Champion, Darragh O'Mahony, 2019 Men's Elite Road Race and Individual Time Trial runner-up, Eddie Dunbar and coach and clubman at Kanturk CC, Dan Curtin. Picture: Maura Moriarty.
Sam Bennett (centre), after winning the 2019 Men's Elite Road Race National title, in Derry, with Kanturk CC members past and present; Club Secretary, Joan Curtin, 2019 Men's Junior Champion, Tom Moriarty, 2019 U23 National Champion, Darragh O'Mahony, 2019 Men's Elite Road Race and Individual Time Trial runner-up, Eddie Dunbar and coach and clubman at Kanturk CC, Dan Curtin. Picture: Maura Moriarty.

Reflecting on the early potential displayed by Bennett during his time racing with Kanturk CC, Dan said that the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider had a powerful sprint, even back then.

“He won a lot of races. We had a good, strong team there; himself, Anthony Lynch, Eoin Leahy, Bernard Geoghegan and Daniel Roche. We won the Youths’ in Ireland. We were in Belgium and won a couple of races, plus England. They were very strong at the time.

“They worked well as a team. But Sam had the sprint the whole time. We blended him in well.

“It’s pure luck that we got him (as a relative invited Bennett to train with Kanturk CC when he spoke of the lack of opportunities to race at youth level near his hometown at the time). He was with us for four years. He did U13, U14, U15 and U16. He went back to Carrick then, when they put a junior team together.’’

Darragh O’ Mahony, another Kanturk CC graduate, won the under 23 national title on the same day Bennett sprinted to his own national crown, in Derry, in 2019. O’ Mahony finished fifth in the elite race that day, another ex-clubman, Eddie Dunbar, took silver, while Tom Moriarty won the junior road race title for Kanturk, on the same weekend. That capped another memorable national championship for one of the institutions of Irish cycling.

O’Mahony, 22, a native of Rockchapel, is now racing for SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling. He is set to compete at this weekend’s national championships, in Limerick. He will take inspiration from Bennett’s green jersey triumph in France, no doubt, as will a new generation of Irish cyclists.

‘‘It’s great to see a former clubman succeeding at that level. It’s probably the biggest achievement of any former Kanturk rider to date. It’s great for the young guys coming up, to see someone like that doing so well.

“It will motivate me; it will motivate the younger guys even more, guys just starting out in cycling. They can see what the end of the line looks like, if you put in hard work. It’s great for everyone,’’ he said.

Sam Bennett at the Tour de France. Picture: Getty Images
Sam Bennett at the Tour de France. Picture: Getty Images

Last year’s U23 national’s winner has a lot of admiration for Bennett’s talents on the road. But he also points out that the Carrick-on-Suir man is a gentleman out of the saddle.

“I’ve raced against him maybe two or three times at national championships. It was nice that we both got the win that day (in Derry). I’ve talked to him a good few times and he’s a very nice guy, which is always a good thing.

“It’s easier to root for a fella when he’s a good character off the bike, too. He’s a really nice guy and I couldn’t be happier for him. He raced with Kanturk a small bit before my time, but I would have seen photos of him in Kanturk jerseys. He raced for the club and had some success, like many before him and after him.”

Ireland's Sam Bennett rides in front of the Louvre pyramid and museum during the 21st and last stage of the 107th edition of the Tour de France. Picture: Getty Images
Ireland's Sam Bennett rides in front of the Louvre pyramid and museum during the 21st and last stage of the 107th edition of the Tour de France. Picture: Getty Images

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