Sam Bennett has become the latest rider to be kicked out of the Vuelta a España with Covid, with the Irish sprinter quitting the race ahead of his stage 10 time trial.
The Bora-Hansgrohe rider had won two stages of the race so far and was in strong contention for the green jersey. He won the second stage in Utrecht, before the third stage in Breda as well, his first Grand Tour stage since 2020.
Bora posted on Twitter: “[Bennett] returned a positive antigen test this morning, and also showed some symptoms. We have therefore decided that he will not start today’s stage.”
Talk to weekly cycling shortly after completing his time trial effort, Bennett’s teammate Ryan Mullen said it was a “huge disgrace” for himself and the team. especially as he had proven himself to be the ‘fastest guy’ in the Vuelta this year.
“It always hurts to talk about it,” said the Irishman. “It’s really a big shame for Sam and the team, and myself, because Sam is a great guy and he’s back to his best shape. Unfortunately Covid caught up with him and a few other guys in the race.
“Obviously someone brought it and now it’s going around all the teams. It’s a real shame and Sam is really disappointed. He deserves to be here, he worked and he was showing that he was back to his best. I’m sure he probably would have won the green jersey, and now Mads Pedersen is going all the way with it.”
Bennett trailed Pedersen by just five points, and with only a few sprint stages still to come in the next fortnight, it was truly a two-horse race in the points standings.
He is the eighth rider to abandon the race between the end of the ninth stage on Sunday and the start of the time trial, and the 12th man to leave the race following a positive Covid test.
Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), José Herrada (Cofidis), Harry Sweeny and Jarrad Drizners (both Lotto Soudal) and Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar) all left the race after positive COVID-19 tests on Tuesday morning, while Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) and Floris De Tier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) are absent respectively due to illness and saddle sores.
Mullen said Bennett had “proved he’s back” at this Vuelta, and that’s what makes it even more infuriating.
“He’s definitely back, he was the fastest guy in the race here by a mile,” he said. “It’s really disappointing for everyone and I’m disgusted for Sam, he’s done all the work and all the preparation to be here, he’s in his best shape. He’s proven he’s back.
“The only real disappointment is that the workload of this race would have put him in a very good position for next year. He would have continued this momentum next year, because there are three more sprints he would be probably guaranteed to win.”
As for his return to racing, Mullen said, “If I was Sam with the form he has, I would run anywhere he could.”
“It will be up to the medical service and the team to tell him when he can train again,” he continued. “He’s probably going to need a few days to recover and get the virus out of his system. Who knows, maybe he could actually start something like the Tour of Britain, if he’s ready.”
It was the latest cycling-related blow for Ireland on Tuesday, after it was revealed the country would not be sending riders to the World Championships in Australia in September due to financial constraints.