George Bennett has taken second place in stage 4 of the Tour of the Alps. The LottoNL-Jumbo rider finished 6 seconds behind Luis Leon Sanchez, who took Astana’s third stage win in four days of racing and moved past Bennett in the GC standings.
The 134.3km stage from Klausen-Chiusa to Lienz was tough, but with a just slightly easier mid-section to tackle between three more challenging ascents; two of which were categorised. The final climb of the Bannberg was a slightly tamer 7km in length and averaged 6.5% gradient, but ramped up early to 12.6%. That climb peaked with 10km remaining and gave way to a swift descent to the finish.
It took about 30km of racing before a nine-man breakaway formed which featured a list of strong riders including Ben Hermans of Israel Cycling Academy, Kristijan Durasek of UAE Team Emirates, Hubert Dupont of AG2R La Mondiale, David De La Cruz of Team Sky, Davide Villella of Astana and Louis Meintjes of Dimension Data. Perhaps for that reason the bunch were unwilling to give the break much by way of advantage and with 32km remaining the gap had dropped to less than 40 seconds with two climbs still to tackle.
With 31km of racing remaining seven riders remained at the head of the race. But back in the peloton George Bennett went on the attack in the company of Team Sky’s Sebastian Henao. The pair were able to bridge over to the breakaway without great difficulty, but by the top of the uncategorised climb the bunch had also brought them back.
Onto the bottom of the final climb and it was Groupama-FDJ leading the way for the overall leader in Thibaut Pinot, but it was Fabio Aru of UAE Team Emirates who got the attacks underway. Behind him Bennett, despite his breakaway efforts earlier, remained in the GC group and near the front. Aru quickly drew across to the rest of the break who were by now finding the going tough for the most part. The lone leader though was Italy’s Nicola Conci who still had a little advantage over the fast-charging Aru.
Next to attack for LottoNL-Jumbo was Bennett’s loyal lieutenant, Koen Bouwman, who overtook Aru and struck out solo with 15km to go. He was joined by a still-resilient Aru and co with 13.4km to go though, while behind him Team Sky were getting ready to light up the pack with a big attack. Aru, Conci, Bouwman and Astana’s Pello Bilbao were joined by Kenny Elissonde and Chris Froome who brought Domenico Pozzovivo of Bahrain-Merida and Thibaut Pinot across with them; Bennett for now just a few seconds back.
But the attacks continued, with Froome launching a move of his own with 11km to go, and Bennett accelerating across to the leading group before the descent towards the finish. On the descent to the lead Domenico Pozzovivo and Astana’s Luis Leon Sanchez led, with Bennett sat third wheel as the kilometres sped by.
Pozzovivo really tried to put the race leader Pinot under pressure, with the Frenchman’s descending abilities not renowned as being the strongest. He was joined by Froome and Sanchez, although the rest of the GC contenders were just on their heels with 3km to go. Inside 3km to go Astana launched a flurry of attacks, with Luis Leon Sanchez finally able to get away with 2km to go. He was pursued by George Bennett and the two of them gapped the rest as the other riders sat up and looked at each other.
Bennett pursued Sanchez, who had just a small gap over the Kiwi with 1km to go, but it was enough of a gap to take the stage honours, while Bennett was riding strongly enough to keep clear of the chasers. Around the final left-hand bends Sanchez took the stage win comfortably, while behind him came Bennett at 6 seconds, and teammate Koen Bouwman at 11 seconds who led the rest across the line.
Despite finishing second on the stage, Bennett actually dropped one place overall to 7th as Sanchez started the stage just 6 seconds behind him on GC; and his stage win, coupled with the time bonus saw him overtake the New Zealander who now sits 7th at 1.10mins to Thibaut Pinot.