Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) continues to close in on his dream of winning the Tour de France green jersey outright as he came through stage 19’s tough transition stage, with 2,000 metres of climbing, still very much in command of the classification.
Bennett out-powered rival and seven-time points winner Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) in the intermediate sprint behind lone breakaway Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and other attackers, where he placed fifth to Sagan’s sixth. He also beat Sagan at the stage finish in Champagnole, where Bennett finished eighth from a break to Sagan’s ninth.
But rather than gains in points - 264 to 319, today he racked up three more to his advantage compared to Thursday evening’s total after the Alps - Bennett’s real gain on Friday was surviving one of the hardest stages for him with all his options intact.
This was arguably even more of a triumph after he and Sagan found themselves in a late 12-rider break. A fraught, final 45 minutes of racing saw Søren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) blast away to take the win alone, while Bennett’s ‘race within a race,’ as he called it, continued apace with Sagan.
“Today was the most dangerous of the remaining stages,” Bennett told reporters afterwards. “I know it must have been frustrating for the other guys, my marking Sagan and I’m sorry I did that.
“But it was the only way I could race, because I’m not as strong as them, so that’s the way I had to do it,” Bennett said about riding on the undulating terrain to the rugged finale into Champagnole.
Bennett let out a massive roar as he crossed the line, which he later explained was in satisfaction that, “I didn't break, and I was happy with that. I know there’s still more to come, but this day was crucial.”
The Irishman said that he had a bit of luck and a lot of good team support to count on for his successful day, with he and teammate Dries Devenyns coming up to the front of the pack at speed just as the break was going. This meant the Deceuninck duo were able to latch on to it with ease. “If there’d been a hill afterwards, though, I’d have been gone,” he admitted with a grin.
Although he had expressed hopes, pre-stage, that the day’s racing would culminate in a breakaway finish, which did materialise, Bennett said he had expected a bunch sprint and had not been optimistic about his chances, in such hilly terrain, of beating Sagan. As it was, a late break went, he was in it, so was Sagan and then Bennett had to play it smart.
“I had completely forgotten about the stage, those points had to go away, there’s such a gap between the first placings, and then it was just about trying to keep the lead,” he observed.
Was Kragh Andersen also lucky that Bennett and Sagan were fighting each other so hard that maybe the Dane got away a bit easier? “No,” Bennett answered, “he’s a very classy rider, he truly deserved that win.
“Today was about being mentally strong and just racing it. Kragh Andersen wasn’t anything to do with me, I had my own race in the race and he was doing his.
“It’s good. There’s still a bit of work to do” - culminating, of course, in that almost inevitable final bunch sprint on the Champs-Élysées - “but we’re getting closer to Paris.”