Sean Kelly believes that Patrick Lefevere’s criticism of Sam Bennett’s integrity and actions over a knee injury are because the Irishman is leaving the team.
The Belgian Deceuninck-QuickStep head suggested that Bennett might not wish to ride for the team in the Tour de France because he is leaving the side at the end of the year, and now Kelly has made a similar observation about the team.
Kelly believes that Lefevere does not want to put the Irishman front and centre for a successful Grand Tour event if he is not staying on.
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"There are rumours going around that maybe Sam didn’t want to go to the Tour and with the pressure and all that but I don’t agree with any suggestion that goes that way," Kelly said to Cyclingnews.
"Coming off the performances he had last year at the Tour, this year he’s proved he can win against the fastest men and when he’s on a good day he can beat anybody. As a bike rider, you want to go to the Tour de France and win stages. Sam wanted to go but injuries come with risks.
"I think that the situation with Patrick… Well, we’ve heard about the negotiations around Sam’s contract for the future and Lefevere has said himself that Sam won’t be a QuickStep rider next year. Patrick is disappointed with that and I think Lefevere is just getting Sam back a bit with that. It’s nothing new from managers when a big rider leaves and they can’t hold onto them. These comments are made to just get a bit of revenge against the rider. It’s nothing new.
"I’ve seen it many times when riders aren’t going to stay with a team and the rider is dropped from the team without explanation. I don’t think Sam is being left out of the Tour because he’s leaving though, I just think he’s saying these negative comments because he’s leaving. Patrick is disappointed, he wants the strongest team and I can see where he’s coming from, but he’s throwing out those comments to get back a bit, I suppose. I think we’ll still see Sam in races later in the year."
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Kelly appeared to credit Bennett’s reasons for missing the Tour, with it claimed that a minor injury had prevented him from training to his fullest potential.
"Disappointing is the word that I would use. He had the injury and it seemed like it was going in the right direction but unfortunately, it just wasn’t good enough to be able to go to the Tour," Kelly added.
"I think his mental toughness is much greater now than it was a few years ago. When he was in the Continental team that we had he had some injury problems and he wasn’t as strong mentally as he is now, but he’s shown that he can beat the best guys in the world. Unfortunately, injuries happen and he’s got this one at a very bad moment. I know the feeling. I crashed in the Tour of Switzerland one year and was out for the Tour. It’s a really hard one to swallow but you just have to get over it and then focus on the rest of the season.”
Mark Cavendish has now replaced Bennett for the event.
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