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The Deceuninck-Quick-Step general manager, Patrick Lefevere, has likened Sam Bennett to “women who return home after domestic abuse” as the Irish sprinter prepares to leave the Belgian team for his old home at Bora-Hansgrohe.

The highly insensitive comments were made in Lefevere’s weekly column for the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad and come after Bennett, who won the points classification at the 2020 Tour de France during his first season with Deceuninck-Quick-Step, was unable to defend that green jersey due to a knee injury.

Mark Cavendish was selected by Deceuninck-Quick-Step as a late replacement for Bennett, with the British veteran going on to win four stages en route to the green jersey.

It was confirmed in May – by Lefevere – that Bennett would be leaving Deceuninck-Quick-Step at the end of the season, with the rider rumoured to be returning to Bora-Hansgrohe in an overhaul of their sprint department.

Before the Tour, Lefevere publicly doubted the severity of Bennett’s injury, telling Sporza: “I can’t prove he doesn’t have knee pain, but I’m starting to think more and more that it’s more fear of failure than just pain.” Lefevere later doubled down on those comments, accusing Bennett of being dishonest and refusing to answer his phone calls. The Belgian, 66, said he would bench Bennett and dock his pay unless the rider “behaves himself”.

Now, in a column also featuring disparaging remarks about Bennett’s Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammates Rémi Cavagna, Remco Evenepoel and Tim Declercq, Lefevere again questioned the Irishman’s mental toughness.

“For me [Bennett is] the pinnacle of mental weakness,” Lefevere wrote. “Leaving Bora and moaning to everybody about how he was ‘bullied’ and almost broke and depressed. Only to return 14 months later. It’s the same as women who still return home after domestic abuse.”

Lefevere’s comments refer to Bennett’s 2019 split with Bora-Hansgrohe, where the rider felt his development was being blocked by the team’s preference for Peter Sagan and Pascal Ackermann as their designated Grand Tour sprinters. Bennett was eventually allowed to leave for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, despite reports suggesting he signed a letter of intent to stay at the German team.