Bennett two years later
March 12 th 2019 - 17:14
Ireland's Sam Bennett surged with 200-km to go to snatch his second stage win in Paris-Nice after the one clinched two years ago in Chalons-sur-Saone. The Bora-Hansgrohe sprinter was the freshest of the field in the finale and he overpowered Australia's Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), who had to be content with his second runner-up spot in this edition while Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck Quick Step) was third. Race leader Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), winner of the first two stages, returned to the front too late to be a contender this time. The Dutchman still retained his overall leader's yellow jersey with a six-second lead over Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and 11 seconds over Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana)
The start was given at 11:43 to 152 riders. A few kilometers after Cepoy, title-holder Marc Soler was involved in a crash which forced Domen Novak (Bahrian-Merida) out of the race. At the first sprint of the day in Chatillon-Coligny, Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) collected three more bonus seconds ahead of Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Tony Gallopin (AG2R). With strong headwind on the course, the pace was leisurely at 31.4 kph in the first hours. Eight riders - Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Sky), Olivier Le Gac (Groupama-FDJ), Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quk Step), Reto Hollenstein (Katusha), Anthony Turgis (Direct Energie) , Kevin Reza (Vital Concept) and Ramunas Navardauskas (Delko Marseille Provence) made the first attempt at km 32 but were caught six kilometers later as Turgis was too dangerous in the GC.
Two Delko riders lead the way
Navardauskas kept going and was soon joined by team-mate Alessandro Fedeli. The pack gave them the go-ahead and the two earned a maximum lead of 5:35 at kilometer 49. The peloton, led by Jumbo-Visma and Lotto-Soudal riders, kept waiting patiently for the finale while slowly bridging the gap with the escapees (2:00 with 70 km to go). However moderate compared with stage 2, the pace was still too high for some exhausted riders like Fabio Aru (UAE), who was ill and called it quits. The bunch finally raised the tempo and reeled in the two Delko-Marseille-Provence riders with 38 km to go.
Sky seize the reins
Six kilometers further down the course, as the road narrowed to lead to a bridge, a crash in the peloton halted a portion of the bunch. While nobody was injured, the pile-up forced riders like Soler, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) or Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) to chase after the pack. But the peloton regrouped with 20 km to go, gearing up for the finale. The second intermediate sprint of Bagneux (km 182) saw Kwiatkowki scavenge three more seconds ahead of Egan Bernal. The two Sky leaders somewhat took the sprinters off their guard in the last 3 km when they took the reins of the peloton and stretched the field. It took time for Groenewegen's team-mates to bring him back in the sprint positions and the Dutchman -- finally 9th in the stage -- could not do anything when Bennett emerged with Ewan in his wheel.