Deceuninck – Quick-Step team manager Patrick Lefevere has launched an extraordinary attack on Sam Bennett, claiming that the Irish cyclist 'lacks balls' and threatening to half his salary until his contract expires.

Bennett, the winner of the points classification in the 2020 Tour De France, is absent from this year’s race with a knee injury.

Lefevere has previously questioned both the validity of Bennett’s injury and his desire to compete at the Tour de France this year, but has now gone a step further and threatened to freeze out Bennett until his deal runs its course in December.

Mark Cavendish has replaced Bennett for Deceuninck - Quick-Step in France, while Bennett has been linked with a return to Bora Hansgrohe at the end of the season, having left then in 2019.

"It’s more unfortunate for him than it is for me," Lefevere said, while speaking to Dutch media outlet Nieuwsblad.

"He first wept like a small child when he left Bora Hansgrohe and 14 months later he signs with the same team because he got a little more money.

"That says more about him than about me. I have balls on my body, he doesn’t. What will happen next Monday? If he behaves, he will race. And otherwise… Not racing for three months, that is 50 percent less salary."

Lefevere went to question Bennett’s mental strength, claiming that the Irish rider continually doubts himself, unlike Cavendish.

"Mark has nothing to lose, we told him that. That’s a luxury. He is also mentally stronger than Sam. Even when Bennett was the fastest of the pack he was constantly doubting himself."

Lefevere’s latest outburst appears to have prompted by a WhatsApp message, with the team manager unhappy with Bennett’s apparent lack of urgency in replying.

"I sent him a WhatsApp message last weekend and he replied: ‘I’m on my bike’. So I thought he would call me after that, but I haven’t heard from him again. Yes sorry, I’m the boss hey, he has to call me. I don’t call him.

"He will be paid until 31 December and I am adhering to the contract correctly. But you have to be two to fulfil a contract. He shows little respect for me.

"I have five team leaders, four doctors, my trainers. At that point it was up to him to call me and he gets rid of it with I’m on my bike. I don’t think he’s still on his bike now and hasn’t gotten off it once to be able to make a phone call. After the training, he could call me and explain himself what was going on."