Sam Bennett of BORA-Hansgrohe has won his first stage of Paris-Nice, sprinting to the win in stage 3 after a much more straightforward day of racing; much less affected by the conditions compared to the previous two stages.
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The longest day of racing so far at 200km in length, the journey from Cepoy to Moulins/Yzeure did not feature a single KOM climb and for a little while didn’t feature a breakaway either, as riders seemed to ease their way into the race after the crazy challenges of the previous two days. A group of eight briefly took off up the road featuring Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Tao Geoghegan Hart of Team Sky, Olivier Le Gac of Groupama-FDJ, Ramunas Navardauskas of Delko-Marseille Provence, Kevin Reza of Vital Concept, Anthony Turgis of Direct Energie, Tim Declercq of Deceuninck-Quick Step and Reto Hollenstein of Katusha-Alpecin. With the threat of Turgis in the general classification, though, the break wasn’t allowed any serious leeway and they were quickly brought back to heel before Navardauskas and teammate Alessandro Fedeli took off.
This time the duo were much more in favour with the peloton, who allowed them a lead that went out to 5.30mins before the bunch brought them back. With 67km to race the gap had come own to 2.24mins, with Deceuninck-Quick Step joining forces with Jumbo-Visma at the head of the race. Lotto Soudal and Katusha-Alpecin also showed interest in matters at the head of the race in what was a much more calm and sedate peloton for much of the stage.
At 48km to go Navardauskas and Fedeli’s lead dropped to beneath the 1 minute margin, and they were finally swept up 10km later; with plenty of racing still to accomplish. A vast array of teams littered the front of the race at this stage with Deceuninck-Quick Step, Lotto Soudal, Team Sky, Vital Concept, all showing interest at the head of the peloton that continued to amble its way towards the finish.
However, a big crash with 32km remaining took a very large number of riders down on a narrow stretch of road that went over a bridge and caused a long wait for a number of riders who had to untangle themselves from one another. Philippe Gilbert, Fabio Sabatini, Simon Yates, Alessandro De Marchi all were among the riders brought down or delayed by the crash, but thankfully no one caught out need have worried as the pace was relaxed on the front of the peloton; allowing everyone to come back on board before racing resumed in earnest.
Jumbo-Visma continued to show themselves at the head of the race with the overall lead of Dylan Groenewegen while at the second intermediate sprint of the day, Michal Kwiatkwoski copied his exploits at the start of the day, taking maximum bonus seconds ahead of teammate Egan Bernal. The bunch continued to proceed towards the finish but the crosswinds did have a little bit to say with less than 10km remaining.
With teams trying to line up for the sprint Team Sky once again sensed an opportunity to break the race up on a little crosswind section; and they seized the chance. Luke Rowe, Michal Kwiatkowski and Egan Bernal surged forwards and caused a split in the peloton briefly but it seemed that the peloton were a little wiser to the tactics of Team Sky. The move was ultimately fruitless but the energy spent by many of the riders to stay on board cost in energy with Dylan Groenewegen having to battle to get back into position as Groupama-FDJ lined up with 1.5km to go at the head of the race.
BORA-Hansgrohe moved forward with 1km to go as Jumbo-Visma also tried to get on board with them. Alexander Kristoff was sat third wheel behind Arnaud Demare with Sam Bennett behind him and then Caleb Ewan. Jumbo-Visma led out the sprint, but Sam Bennett quickly responded to an acceleration from Groenewegen with Ewan on his shoulder. This time while the Dutchman faded, the Irishman had timed his sprint perfectly. Again Ewan was coming forward late but just not quite quickly enough as Bennett secured his third win of the season so far and his second World Tour win on the back of the final stage win at the UAE Tour. Fabio Jakobsen of Deceuninck-Quick Step took third.
Jack Bauer of Mitchelton-SCOTT and George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma finished safely in the bunch with the same time as the sprinters, with Bennett climbing another couple of spots in the G to 26th on the eve of tomorrow’s tough stage to Pélussin.