Cycling: Bennett raises flag for Irish home town three decades after Kelly

ILE DE RE, France (Reuters) - Ireland’s Sam Bennett has a chance to win the green jersey for the points classification on the Tour de France, 31 years after compatriot Sean Kelly, and he says it is no coincidence that both were raised in the same town.

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Carrick-on-Suir, with a population of 6,000, was home to both Kelly, who won five individual stages of the Tour de France and secured the points classification four times between 1982 and 1989, and the 29-year-old Bennett who claimed his maiden Tour stage win on Tuesday.

The town may be small, but it is a perfect environment for developing cycling talent, according to Bennett.

“I suppose there is a little bit of coincidence but I always use the Isle of Man as an example,” Bennett told reporters, referring to the island off England’s north west coast that produced the likes of Mark Cavendish and Peter Kennaugh.

“Carrick has a big cycling culture, you have all these experienced guys and coaches, there’s a support to bring the young guys through and I think it can’t be so much of a coincidence.”

Bennett now has stage wins on all three Grands Tours - France, Spain and Italy - and he leads triple world champion Peter Sagan by 21 points in the points classification.

“For sure I’d love to bring home the green jersey for Ireland, but Peter won it so many times for a reason,” said Bennett, referring to Sagan’s seven green jerseys.

The green jersey crowns the rider who wins the most points, available at the finish and on intermediate sprints.

“He’s one of the best at this game but I suppose it’s a confidence booster and a compliment to compete with him,” said Bennett.

“But we’ll take it day by day.”

On Tuesday, everything clicked for Bennett, who benefited from a perfect lead-out from Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Michael Morkov to beat Australian Caleb Ewan and Slovakian Sagan.

“It’s really weird because everything seemed to go too perfectly in the end. I was shocked, I can’t believe it happened,” Bennett said.

“After the line it just didn’t hit me, I’ve waited so many years for this to happen. It took a while for it to really sink in.”

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis