John Duggan writes that cycling and the feats of Sam Bennett have been an unlikely high point as we muddle through the pandemic
“You’ve won, I’m telling you, you’ve won.” (ITV’s Daniel Friebe to Sam Bennett).
We have all been soaking up any sport we can get, really. Human beings can adapt to most things. We are now at the point that social distancing, hand sanitising and mask wearing is second nature. Jimmy Greaves could have been talking about life when he said that football ‘is a funny old game’. Our antenna to our surroundings has been heightened during this public health crisis. Anxiety increases. There are good days and bad days.
On the bad days, completing normal tasks can seem like a drag. It’s a first world problem, but small freedoms are paused. Not being able to have a random pint and see where it leads to. Not being able to book that foreign holiday. Not being able to go to Croker. There are other days when we are just grateful for what we have, the ability to go for a walk and be more in touch with our neighbourhood and nature in general. To maybe hug a loved one after being denied that essential feeling. To give a pal a shout and asking them how they are. And meaning it.
Those of us obsessed by sport have held on tight to what we’ve been given, hoping to turn the viewing experience into something more visceral, without the ability to attend a big match or even a local club game. We dealt with the return of the Premier League and we got used to the crowd noise. We slipped back into the habit of rabid social media posting and speculating on transfers.
We fell in love again with snooker, mesmerised by Ronnie O’Sullivan. We stayed up late to watch the US PGA and the birth of a new star in Collin Morikawa, oblivious to the lack of spectators. We paid the bill for the pay per view and watched Katie Taylor repel the slugs in Eddie Hearn’s back garden. We felt a protective pride for Eric Donovan. We welcomed the Stephen Kenny era with familiar debate over the style of the Republic of Ireland team’s play. We respected Leinster’s cold consistency and felt pity for Munster.
It was Sam Bennett though that moved us. Moved us on our smart phones, on our TV screens. The Tour de France is over a hundred years old and in my book the legacy of the race is not in a good place. It won’t be for many years after the Lance Armstrong affair, the touchpoint for decades of doping and deceit.
But, for one day, and maybe many more, Sam changed that. Sam is a sprinter, and a fine one. He entered the 2020 Tour with stage wins at the Giro and Vuelta under his cap.
What Sam displays is the precious, clean commodity of integrity. The Tipperary native is following in the wheels of another Carrick-on-Suir rider, Sean Kelly, who was the last Irishman to take home the green jersey from France in 1989.
On September 8th, Bennett became only the sixth Irishman to win a stage at the Tour de France, going back to 1963.
When he started speaking after his sprint victory on Ile de Ré, he was behind the mask, but that didn’t lessen the impact.
“It hasn’t hit me, I thought I’d be in the floods of tears, but I’m just kind of, in shock.”
Once Friebe pointed out that this was real, it dawned on Bennett’s emotional response.
Through tears, he thanked his manager, his team and his wife. “You never think it will happen and it does, it did. It took a while for it to hit me and…..Oh man!”
In reality it took seconds to distill years. 29-year-old Bennett worked a long time for this podium moment, via injuries and disappointments to make history at the Tour.
We celebrated with him back home as we have engaged in every way, remotely. The hope is that he will hold off the legendary Peter Sagan and wear the green jersey in Paris on Sunday week.
It makes one long for the day when we can pull on a green jersey of own and go to Lansdowne Road or on an overseas adventure for our Kenny kicks. All being well.
We are frayed a bit in Ireland at the moment with the pandemic.
It's a diet of daily case figures, the hovering issue of lock down and whether some previously taken for granted thing will happen or not, tomorrow, next week.
So we kind of needed your win, and your humanity Sam. Thank you.