Taking the Next Step
EF Pro Cycling announced the signing of neo-pro Sean Bennett. The American joins the team from Hagens Berman Axeon off the back of a “Baby Giro” stage win last summer.
In Bennett, team CEO Jonathan Vaughters sees a young rider brimming with overlooked potential.
“He won a stage of the Baby Giro. He almost won a stage in the Tour of California this year, finishing second to Toms Skujins, who I would say is the guy Sean reminds me of most,” Vaughters said.
“When I called Sean up, my question was, ‘Are you a little pissed off that you’ve been looked over while other guys, like Neilson Powless and Brandon McNulty and some other high-profile U23s, have been in the spotlight? Does that irk you?’
“And he said, ‘Yeah, it does.’
“I thought, ‘perfect.’”
“I went all in with it”
Prior to the 2018 season, Bennett largely rode as a domestique. Over the last eight months, he’s had the opportunity to take on a different role.
“The fitness hasn’t changed much from last year to this year, but I got to save myself for the end of the races, and I had the results to show for it,” Bennett said.
The 22-year-old got his start in cycling as a high school freshman. He followed in his older brothers’ footsteps, joining NICA – the National Interscholastic Cycling Association that was founded in 2009 to develop an interscholastic mountain biking program for high school students across the United States.
“I had a lot of fun going to the races on the weekend. It was a really good social environment, so it was a lot more fun than just showing up to a bike race, racing and going home,” said Bennett. “It was a really great experience.
“By senior year, I knew I really wanted to give cycling a proper try,” Bennett added. “I thought I was competitive enough to see where it could take me, and I went all in with it.”
After high school, Bennett switched his focus from mountain biking to road racing. He raced in Europe with USA Cycling before signing up for Irish Continental squad An Post-Chain Reaction in 2016.
“I’ve had a lot of transitions and a lot of big learning curves,” said Bennett. “It seems like every year, I’ve taken a key step: transitioning from mountain bike to road, road racing in America, road racing in Europe – that was a particularly big step. The last few years have been about increasing the comfort level and confidence in Europe so that I can compete, be an active participant rather than someone just riding in the field. I think this year I’ve taken a big step being able to consistently have a role in a race and impact its outcome in some ways. I quite like doing that.”
On to the WorldTour…
The move to the WorldTour is the latest in a series of steps Bennett has made season-after-season.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” said Bennett. “And signing with EF offered me the most knowns in a world of unknowns. Having familiar faces around me – people I know, I like, I get along with – having that will ease this transition.”
When talking about Bennett, Vaughters points to Skujins, who wore argyle from 2016-2017, and has recently come of age in the WorldTour, snagging another Amgen Tour of California win, wearing the polka dot jersey at the Tour of France and winning Tre Valli Varesine all within the last six months.
“Toms’ story was a bit similar,” said Vaughters. “He had great results and was somehow overlooked. Sean, to me, is the exact same thing. The guy has done a lot in under-23 and pro ranks this year. But he’s one of those guys who, for one reason or another, his name just hasn’t popped as much as.
“He’s got a lot of fire. And I’m happy to have a young guy like that on the team next year. He knows how to sniff out a breakaway. He sprints well. He climbs well. He’s an all-around rider with really great bike-handling skills and a good nose for tactics.
“As the directors would say, he’s a quote, unquote racer. He knows how to win when he puts himself in a position, knows how to help teammates.”
Bennett is eager to embrace the challenge that awaits him.
“I’m most looking forward to competition at the highest level and knowing that the races I’m doing are at the top and I’m racing against the best guys in the world,” said Bennett. “I’m excited to see how I stack up.”
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