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Sam Bennett returns to racing Friday in a Deceuninck-Quick-Step jersey for the first time since May, and team boss Patrick Lefevere insists the start at the Vlaanderen championship will be the first of many for the Irish sprinter before he leaves the team at the end of the season.
Lefevere continues to rail against Bennett, who last raced in team colors at the Volta ao Algarve in May, citing a knee injury that forced him to miss the Tour de France. After two seasons with the Belgian outfit, Bennett negotiated a return to Bora-Hansgrohe for 2022.
Speaking to the Belgian media, Lefevere said he will put Bennett into every race possible before he leaves the team.
“It’s a shame the Tour of Guangxi is canceled,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “From now on, he will ride every race.”
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The latest spat in the ongoing drama between Lefevere and Bennett was triggered by Bennett’s surprise appearance at the European Championships earlier this month in Italy, which was Bennett’s first race since he sustained the injury.
His appearance at Trento — Bennett did not finish the race — means that Lefevere cannot reduce Bennett’s salary as he was threatening.
According to UCI rules, a team can reduce a rider’s salary by as much as half if they’re inactive for three months or more due to injury or some other reason. Het Nieuwsblad reported that Bennett’s return at the European championships — where he raced in Irish national team colors — means that Bennett will not see his salary reduced because he returned to competition within the stated rules.
“He raced for seven kilometers,” Lefevere told the paper. “Good for him, because we couldn’t refuse that selection for the Irish team, and he avoids the UCI rule being activated.”
— La Flamme Rouge (@laflammerouge16) September 12, 2021
Lefevere has not hidden his disappointment over Bennett’s long-running injury and hiatus from racing, and has gotten into some hot water when he criticized what he called Bennett’s “weak mind,” and later compared Bennett’s return to Bora-Hansgrohe to domestic violence, comments Lefevere later had to walk back.
The Belgian manager promised Bennett will see plenty of racing action in the closing months of the 2021 racing season, something he said Bennett also wants to help him regain race fitness after several months on the sidelines.
“From now on, he’ll start every race we can set him up in,” Lefevere said. “On Sunday, he will race in Gooik, and Tuesday in Vichte, plus everything that comes after that. He himself wanted it that way. When I get back and I run into Sam, we’ll see each other.”
On Thursday, there was no public reaction from Bennett.
Despite Lefevere’s comments, Bennett was not named in the Deceuninck-Quick-Step squad for the Gooikse Pijl on Sunday.