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Brennan's Brief How Ireland’s current cycling hero Sam Bennett has all the qualities needed to be a world star

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Ireland's Sam Bennett celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the fourth stage of the UAE tour cycling race

Ireland's Sam Bennett celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the fourth stage of the UAE tour cycling race

Ireland's Sam Bennett celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the fourth stage of the UAE tour cycling race

To win either of cycling’s two greatest one-day races, the Rainbow Jersey of World Champion or the Olympic Games gold medal, you need talent above all, you need good team-mates, you need dedication, you need race craft and also a lot of luck.

The one day an Irish cyclist did with either of those prizes demonstrated all that in spades. Thirty-four years ago, in the foothills of the Austrian Alps at Villach, Stephen Roche spent six hours and 50 minutes riding to help Sean Kelly win the gold medal, because the course did not go too high up those Alps – it was a course for a rider with a sprint finish like Kelly rather than a pure climber such as Roche.

Halfway around the last lap, Kelly got trapped with a bunch of Italians on his wheel. They knew he was the man to mark. Roche, having won the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in that famous year of 1987 decided that finishing sixth or seventh in the race was neither here nor there.

With those two prizes already bagged, it was win or bust. He attacked a group of four colleagues 300m out from the finish line. They fatally hesitated for five seconds – and Roche was gone – off to win the Triple Crown.

Ireland’s current cycling hero Sam Bennett has all the qualities needed to be a World or, this year, Olympic Champion. All except the biggest one of all, luck.

On Al Marjan Island yesterday, Bennett won a sprint finish to win the fourth stage of the Tour of the UAE. Most of the world’s top fastmen were behind him, speedsters like Caleb Ewan (Australia), Pascal Ackermann (Germany) and the Italians Elia Viviani and Giacomo Nizzolo.

Bennett has won stages in each of the last four Grand Tours he has contested. He won the Green Jersey of the Tour de France last year. He will be a big favourite for Milan-San Remo, the ‘Sprinters Classic’, in Italy next month. Right now, Sam is the best at what he does.

So why can’t he be a world or Olympic champion in 2021? Because the courses have been designed with bloody great hills on them and there is no way that either race is coming to a sprint finish.

The course of the Olympic Road Race this year will take the peloton up the side of Mount Fuji, Japan’s iconic mountain. It’s much more a course for Dan Martin or Nicolas Roche, the top climbers in Irish cycling.

The World Championship in Flanders this year is up and down the famous ‘Bergs’ and across the cobbles of Northern Belgium. Doesn’t sound like Sam’s cup of tea either.

And though the course for next year’s World Championshio Road Race, south of Sydney in Australia, has yet to be settled, all the word is that the finishing circuit will have, yes, you’ve guessed it, a steep hill on it.

It leaves the World Championship in Glasgow in 2023 and the Paris Olympics of 2024 as the best bets for Bennett. Trouble is, Sam will be 32 and 33 by the time those races come around. He’s the main man now, will there be a younger gunslinger on the roads of Europe by then? Most probably.

Perhaps Sam is fated, just like Sean Kelly was, never to win either of these great prizes.

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