Gutsy Sam Bennett keeps on fighting

It is not where he wanted to be, but Sam Bennett is in line to add his name to an unusual roll of honour at the Tour de France.

On the second rest day in Berne, the Irish sprinter sits 183rd and bottom of the general classification after 16 stages, carrying the metaphorical ‘lanterne rouge’ as the last man in the Tour de France.

It is a position with an odd history. There is a certain distinction to finishing last in the Tour, and for many years riders low in the standings would fight over last place in the hope of profiting from the publicity.

At one point, competition became so intense, that in 1980, organisers would eliminate the rider in last place after certain stages in the hopes of discouraging deliberate time losses.

For Bennett, it is a burden he would rather not carry, but that is largely down the circumstances that got him to this point.

The 25-year-old, competing in his second Tour for Bora-Argon 18, came here hoping to compete for stage wins but suffered a catalogue of injuries in a crash on the opening stage and has been struggling to keep up ever since.

“I hate it because I have no choice but to be here,” Bennett said of last place. “If I was healthy and I was just being a bit lazy I’d embrace it but at the moment I’m being forced into it and I don’t like it.”

Bennett crashed into the barriers on the final approach to the line on stage one to Utah Beach, and later said he could see bone coming through the skin on his severely injured right hand.

“He lost some skin and hurt his bones in the crash,” said Bora-Argon 18 team doctor Jan-Niklas Droste. “The problem is he needs a lot of energy to recover from that and that is why he has suffered since.”

Bennett had hoped to get over the hump and be back in the mix after the first rest day last Monday, but progress was slower than expected and his best showing remains his 12th place on stage 14 to the Parc des Oiseaux in Villars-les-Dombes - the only time he has finished higher than 160th on a stage.

That has left him three hours, 38 minutes and 10 seconds off the pace set by race leader Chris Froome, and more than 15 minutes behind Lars Ytting Bak in 182nd place.

“I’m tired,” Bennett said. “I thought I’d recover a bit after the accident but I just get more and more fatigued. I’ve recovered from the injury but that has made me fatigued so I’m not back to where I want to be.”

This is a second summer of disappointment for Bennett after illness forced him to abandon his debut Tour last year.

He spent a year determined to put that right, only to see it all disappear in a flash in Normandy. “I knew my chances were gone then,” he said of the crash. “I tried to stay positive and thought I could be better after the first rest day, but I didn’t come good again.

“It’s annoying because last year it didn’t really work out and this year I’m in the same boat. I wanted to go home but then I’d have got nothing from the race. I might as well get some strength from it.”

With the Tour getting tougher heading into the final week, the lanterne rouge is just an extra weight to carry up the mountainside, but Bennett is determined to make it to the finish after all he has been through.

“I’d be proud to finish the Tour because it was a lot of bad luck and I fought through it,” he said.

“Every experience is an experience you can learn from and take something from.”

  • Mark Cavendish has opted to end his Tour de France prematurely to focus on his bid for the so-far elusive Olympic medal, the Manxman’s Team Dimension Data announced last night.


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