George Bennett of Team Jumbo-Visma has finished a career best 6th overall at Paris-Nice.  The race was won by Egan Bernal of Team Sky, who finished 39 seconds ahead of Nairo Quintana and 1.03mins ahead of Sky teammate Michal Kwiatkowski.

After stage 5’s individual time trial George Bennett sat in 13th place overall, 1.39mins behind overall leader Michal Kwiatkowski.  Up ahead was just one summit finish and so limited opportunities for the Kiwi to stamp his mark on the race.  Stage 6, from Peynier to Brignoles was the final opportunity for the sprinters to have their day, despite the tough parcours earlier in the stage with three categorised climbs in the space of just over 50km.

George Bennett moved up from 13th overall after the individual time trial to 6th on the final day, photo Sirotti

Bennett takes second sprint win in stage 6

 

The latter stages of the day were intense, with the break of the day caught very early with almost 50km to go.  Jack Bauer of Mitchelton-SCOTT played a big role in the pace setting in the peloton alongside Bahrain-Merida; with Team Sky present towards the front.  The pace being driven by Bauer and co led to a big split in the peloton with a 34 second gap to a group containing the likes of two-time stage winner this year Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma and KOM leader Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal.

With 30km left Mitchelton-SCOTT rallied their full force at the front of the race, jostling for control with Sky.  On the final climb of the day, the Cote de Sainte-Philomène, George Bennett moved towards the front of the leading group that was about 30-40 strong.  But it was Jack Bauer – second over the second climb of the day incidentally – who led the field over the final climb of the day; picking up a total of 12 points in the KOM classification and moving up to 4th in the classification.

A late crash disrupted things for a couple of riders, with Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale and Arnaud Demare of Groupama-FDJ taking tumbles and being forced to chase back on; which they did.  On the run in toward the finish though it looked like Groupama-FDJ and Deceuninck-Quick Step were predominantly in control.  In the sprint for the line Groupama-FDJ had the front of the race, with John Degenkolb, Sonny Colbrelli and Matteo Trentin all in contention.  But it was Sam Bennett who timed his effort perfectly to cross the line just ahead of Arnaud Demare with Trentin third.

Sam Bennett executed a perfectly-timed sprint finish to win stage 6, photo Sirotti

Martinez wins from breakaway, Bernal succeeds Kwiatkowski in yellow

 

The Battle Royale for the general classification was expected to be fought in stage 7, on the climb up the Col de Turini, the 15.3km climb that averaged 7.1%.  It was a day expected to lure a break but it wasn’t expected that such a large break would go clear.  39 riders made it into the day’s break including Philippe Gilbert of Deceuninck-Quick Step, Simon Yates of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Alessandro De Marchi of CCC Team, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal.

For De Gendt this was his opportunity to secure the polka dot jersey, and he set about doing just that; taking his points tally from 29 points to 64 points although not without pressure from Alessandro De Marchi.

The day would belong to the breakaway, although by the end of the day just 12 riders had managed to remain clear of the rampaging GC contenders behind them.  The time gap with 30km to go was just shy of 6 minutes, but with the force of Team Sky, Astana and Movistar expected to come to the fore – and the ever impressive presence of Jumbo-Visma – it wasn’t expected to be too much of a challenge for the peloton to mop up most of the gap.

The remnants of the break had 6 minutes in hand at the bottom of the climb, with Pawel Poljanski of BORA-Hansgrohe getting the attacks going.  Team Sky predictably moved to the front of the race once they reached the climb, but Deceuinck-Quick Step kept the pace high in the break, meaning that with 6km of the climb covered the break were still holding a strong lead of 6 minutes when Simon Yates and Miguel Angel Lopez attacked from the break.  Nicolas Edet joined them and so too Daniel Felipe Martínez of EF Education First; and that was the move that would decide the stage.

Daniel Martínez was the last man standing after the leading four attacked each other all the way up stage 7’s final climb, photo Sirotti

Accelerations permeated the final kilometres with Lopez, Yates, Edet and Martínez all attacking one another.  The attacks just kept coming at the front, with Edet attacking with 2.6km to go and drawing Martínez along with him.  At the same time the yellow jersey of Michal Kwiatkowski dropped off the pace while Bennett continued to press on with Quintana, Bardet, Pozzovivo, Bernal and co.  A late attack with 1km to go finally broke Edet and Yates, with only Lopez able to go with Martínez.  In the sprint for the line though Martínez had the acceleration to drop his Colombian compatriot and take the biggest win of his life with Edet third and Yates fourth.

Late in the climb the pace of Ivan Ramiro Sosa of Team Sky took its toll on a number of GC contenders, including Romain Bardet, Jack Haig and George Bennett.  Only Nairo Quintana could go with Bernal, leading the white jersey across the line in 13th place 3.43mins back and thus putting Bernal into yellow with a day to go.

George Bennett crossed the Lin 19th on the stage but moved up to 7th overall, 2.20mins behind Bernal and ahead of Ilnur Zakarin, Bob Jungels and Luis Leon Sanchez.

 

Izagirre solos to final stage win, Bernal secures GC

 

The final battleground for this year’s race started and finished in Nice with 110km to cover.  The parcours was lumpy, with a total of six climbs littering the stage before the downhill run in to the finish.  A threatening breakaway featured early on with Ilnur Zakarin in the move for Katusha-Alpecin.  37 riders in total made the move including De Gendt, Bob Jungels, Matteo Trentin, Luis Leon Sanchez; a number of riders who could threaten George Bennett’s position in the general classification.

Team Sky kept the tempo reasonably high to prevent matters from escalating out of control, with the gap down to a minute with 47km to go.  But Nairo Quintana was the biggest problem for Team Sky, attacking at around 50km to go and putting Bernal and Sky on the ropes.  Up ahead Tejay van Garderen had the lead of the race for a time for EF Education First, but with 43km to go the Quintana group joined him and together they had a 1.02min advantage over the Bernal group.

Ion Izagirre celebrates his stage victory on the final day of racing, photo Sirotti

The gap to the bunch stabilised at around 50 seconds with 24km to go, and Quintana needed to recuperate 46 seconds in order to win the race outright.  His motive for being in the break, played into the hands of the break’s chances of taking the stage honours; with the Colombian only too willing to throw caution to the wind and pull the move along.

Behind them Team Sky were at full flight with the kilometres ticking away.  The final climb of the Col de Quatre Chemins peaked with 9.5km to go and Ion Izagirre used the climb as his launchpad for victory.  He attacked with less than 15km remaining and quickly gained 21 seconds on the Quintana group; while the yellow jersey group finally looked like they’d succeeded in turning the tables on the Colombian for Movistar, closing to within 34 seconds of their rival.

Izagirre time trialled to the finish, winning 18 seconds clear of Oliver Naesen of AG2R La Mondiale and Wilco Kelderman of Team Sunweb.  All the while George Bennett remained with the GC group, trying to hold Quintana in check as the finish line neared.  Quintana crossed the line 22 seconds behind Izagirre and moved up to 2nd place overall, but it wasn’t enough to dethrone is compatriot, with Egan Bernal taking the overall win.

Bennett’s 14th place across the line resulted in 6th overall for the Kiwi, besting his previous best GC position at Paris-Nice by 20 places.  Tom Scully of EF Education First and Jack Bauer of Mitchelton-SCOTT both completed the race with Scully 109th overall and Bauer 97th overall.

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