By Carlos de Torres
Ile de Re, France, Sep 8 (efe-epa).- Ireland’s Sam Bennett narrowly beat out a packed group of cyclists in the final sprint to win the 10th stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday, while Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic retained his lead in the General Classification.
The 29-year-old Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) had come agonizingly close on several other occasions before capturing his first-ever stage victory on the 168.5-kilometer (104.7-mile) route from Ile D’Oleron to Ile de Re (two islands off of France’s Atlantic coast), crossing the finish line in a time of three hours, 35 minutes and 22 seconds.
The day’s racing started with a sense of relief after PCR test results published Tuesday morning showed that all 165 cyclists had tested negative for the novel coronavirus.
Race director Christian Prudhomme, however, returned a positive test for Covid-19 and will go into quarantine for seven days.
Switzerland’s Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ) and Michael Schar (CCC) burst from the starting line on Ile D’Oleron and took an early lead before the riders reached the bridge heading to the mainland.
The entirely flat course posed no difficulty whatsoever in terms of terrain, yet all the teams were still on edge because of that western coastal region’s constantly shifting winds.
The peloton kept up a brisk pace – with the top teams wary of echelons amid the crosswinds – and eventually reeled in the Swiss duo prior to the 70-km mark.
A key moment then occurred at km 103 in Rochefort, where a crash affected the third- and seventh-place riders in the General Classification, France’s Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) and Slovenia’s Tadej Podacar (UAE Team Emirates), both of whom were unscathed and ended up battling their way back to the pack.
Colombian defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal’s Ineos-Grenadiers team heaped on the pressure shortly before the riders reached the bridge to Ile de Re, leading to a split in the peloton.
Another crash also occurred at that juncture, with France’s Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) – leader of the race in stages two through four but now dozens of spots behind Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) – among the victims.
A strong headwind slowed down the riders as they headed over the three-km bridge to Ile de Re, with the sprinters waiting for their chance to attack.
The final stretch was an unruly sprint in which Bennett seized the advantage despite the Sunweb team’s best effort to spring Cees Bol, who finished eighth.
Finishing second and third, respectively, were Australian Lotto Soudal cyclist Caleb Ewan and Slovak Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who on Tuesday surrendered his sprinters’ Points Classification green jersey to Bennett.
Bennett was overjoyed over finally earning a Tour de France stage win.
“I always dreamt of winning a Tour de France stage and I couldn’t imagine what it’s like. I thought it wouldn’t happen,” he said. “In the sprint, I was waiting to go because there was a head wind. I thought maybe I waited too late. I had a too big gear for winning? But I won!”
Roglic, for his part, talked about his team’s ability to manage risk on a potentially perilous route.
“It was a quite nervous and stressful stage, from the start all the way to the finish. As a team, we managed it really well. My teammates did a great job and we can be happy we avoided crashes,” said the Slovenian, who had snagged the leader’s yellow jersey on Sunday.
The race will continue on Wednesday with a 167.5-km route from Chatelaillon-Plage to Poitiers, a second straight flat stage that could finish once again in a bunched sprint. EFE-EPA