January first is always associated with fresh starts and new beginnings. For some that can mean resolutions broken by mid-day whilst for others it can mean an entire life changing event.
This morning in Carrick on Suir, in a town square named after one of the greatest cyclists of all time a cycling club gathered to recognise a club mate as he set off to join the elite of World cycling.
The rain eased as the crowd gathered in Sean Kelly square. Old and young members of Iverk Carrick Wheelers came to wish Sam Bennett well for the year ahead as a member of the NetApp Endura pro team. Also present were Sam’s proud and always supporting parents Mike and Helen and girlfriend Tara who were joined by friends and local town councillors who all came to wish him well.
It was a real landmark day for a club which has consistently produced elite riders and National Champions. For the likes of Martin O’Loughlin who coached and developed Sam through the years and Paul Lonergan who is always there in the support car it was an especially satisfying moment. Rory Wyley, Hugh Mulhearn and Sean Hahessy seemed pleased that the multitude of long hard winter miles in their company would now stand Sam in good stead.
Looking around the square as photographers Joe Cashin, Johnny Troy and Karen Edwards began shooting their cameras I noticed that everyone had a smile on their faces. There was a really good atmosphere and it felt like one of those moments that will be remembered in years to come.
The great Sean Kelly was there enjoying the occasion and the chance to wish Sam well, having spent the past three seasons riding for his An Post Sean Kelly team. The experience gained under the tutelage of Sean and team manager Kurt Bogaerts will surely stand Sam in good stead as he takes the next step up.
Kellys exploits inspired a generation of Carrick cyclists like Sam and there were a good few young riders there today who are visibly being inspired by Sam with one even willing to put a time frame on how soon he would be following in his wheel tracks. The future of cycling in Carrick looks safe for many years to come.
As the riders lined up to form a guard of honour Sam demonstrated some of his bike handling skills that have seen him compared to Peter Sagan on more than one occasion. First at almost a standstill he raised his arms aloft for the photographers. Then through the narrow gap he rose up his front wheel and wheelied down through the middle again at a speed slow enough to allow enough photos to be taken.
Then it was time for a spin up to Clonmel and the mountain road. Riding along in the group I wondered to myself how many other sports are there that ordinary sportspeople get to train with the top professionals and World number ones, and was reminded once again just how great a sport cycling really is.
Sam has the best wishes of a nation of cyclists going with him as embarks on the next level of his career and we are all looking forward to cheering him on and screaming at Eurosport on the tv as he notches up many more victories on his way to a glittering career.