Sam Bennett can lead the next era of Irish cycling success after claiming the green jersey today in Paris, according to former track world champion Martyn Irvine.
The seven-time Irish road cycling champion also told RTÉ Radio 1’s Sunday Sport that Bennett’s move from Bora-Hansgrohe to Deceuninck-Quick Step was critical to today’s success.
The Carrick-on-Suir rider claimed the jersey in style this evening after winning the final stage at the Champs-Élysées, becoming the fist Irish rider since Sean Kelly in 1989 to do so.
The jersey is awarded to the rider who claims the most points over the course of the race, with points being awarded for various sprints that happen within the different stages.
“It’s kind of a new era in Irish cycling,” said the County Down man.
“Going from here forward, Sam’s the only man that can do it. There’s no other Irish man whose able to step up and do what he’s doing.
“It’s definitely been a long time coming. Sam’s been through the ringer. There’s no straight lines at the top of sport. It’s up and down, up and down, so it’s definitely well earned for him.
“It was one of the best green jersey races I’ve seen since I’ve been involved in cycling. Normally it’s the first week sprinters that tie it up. Then it’s a procession through the mountains into Paris, but this has been the best race I’ve watched in ages for the green jersey.”
During his time with his previous team Bora-Hansgrohe Bennett was racing alongside Peter Sagan, the winner of seven of the last eight green jerseys during le tour.
The Slovak also has three World Road Cycling Championships to his name, and for Irvine, the move to Deceuninck-Quick Step afforded the Tipperary-man the chance to move out of the shadow of his illustrious former teammate.
“Ok, he’s slightly coming off his top form, but the pedigree this man has – you could say he’s the best bike rider of the modern era.
“Sam has beaten him, heads up. It makes what he’s done even bigger – he’s been awesome.
“It’s unbelievable, great to see. Fair play to him. If you want to beat someone you want to beat the best, and that’s exactly what he’s done.
“He was with Sagan, so maybe in years gone past he was on the same team as him, and he’d have been overshadowed there.
“He’s had the better team. He had good results in the last year, so he had the confidence.
“It’s the perfect scenario for Sam where he’s got the free rein to do what he wants. He’s got the team behind him, and there’s no one over him in the team that can tell him what to do.
“He’s now the man in the team and he’s proved he’s one of the best sprinters in the world.
“Winning the green jersey in Paris is the pinnacle of that.”
Looking to the future, Irvine believes that claiming the green jersey will give Bennett greater respect in the sport, and could provide the spark to ignite the best period in his career.
“His value has gone up” Irvine pointed out.
“He’s proved that he can handle the stress of a three week race, and the pressure of being looked at for three weeks.
“The worlds this year is not quite for him, but he’ll start to dictate what he wants now. He’s kinda his own man now.
“Going into next season, he’ll be able to pick the season he wants. And then, if everything goes well, he can target the races he wants.
“He should get bigger and better from here on in.”