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We have a look at Sam Bennett’s early season race and schedule and detail where the biggest opportunities will come for the Irish sprinter

By Shane Stokes

Sam Bennett has revealed the first races in his 2024 programme, with the Carrick on Suir rider due to make his racing debut with his new Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale team in just under four weeks’ time.

He will contest the four day Tour de la Provence in France, running from February 8th to 11th, followed by other bigger events, which we have analysed here to detail where his best chances are likely to come this spring.

After Tour de la Provence he travels to the United Arab Emirates in advance of the start of the UAE Tour on February 19th. That race continues until February 25th, with Paris-Nice then following between March 3rd and 10th.

Bennett has been working hard in recent months and told stickybottle recently that he is really happy with the direction things are going in, and gaining a lot of confidence.

The Tour de la Provence will likely appeal, with two of the four stages likely to come down to big sprints.

The 2.1-ranked race begins with a 5km prologue in Marseille, a distance which might appeal to Bennett as a gauge of fitness. It then continues with the first road stage proper, an undulating but not overly demanding 157.2km race from Aix-en-Provence to Martigues.

With the day’s sole category two climb coming inside the first 50kms and then just one category three climb 56.6km from the finish, a big gallop appears to be on the cards.

This will give Bennett an early opportunity to test both his legs and the positioning assistance of his Decathlon Ag2r La Mondiale squad.

Day three will be much tougher, with the 165.2km race from Forcalquier to Manosque featuring a category two climb 44km after the start and a category three ascent at km 117.2.

With just over 25km remaining the riders will tackle the first category climb of the Col de l’Aire del Masco, something which will likely break the bunch apart and facilitate a very select finish in Manosque.

The final day will be much more appealing to the sprinters. Beginning in Rognac and extending 183.2km to Arles, the only climb is the category three Col de la Vayède, just over 50km into the 183.2km stage.

The roads are almost completely flat after that, setting things up for another big bunch finish.

Bennett has never ridden the Tour de la Provence before, but has found considerable success in both the UAE Tour and Paris-Nice.

He has won three stages in the former, landing two in 2021 and one in 2019. Last year he was second and third on stages of the race.

His Paris-Nice tally to date is five stages. He opened his account in 2017 when he beat Alexander Kristoff and the rest of the bunch into Chalon-sur-Saône.

Two years later he was best into Moulins ahead of Caleb Ewan and Fabio Jakobsen, then landed win number two ahead of Arnaud Démare into Brignoles.

The 2021 season saw him nab the first yellow jersey of the race when he was quickest in Saint-Cyr-l’École, again besting Démare.

Four days later he was once again raising his hands, leading Nacer Bouhanni, Pascal Ackermaan and the rest of the peloton into Bollène.

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