Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) was able to beat the 2018 Giro d’Italia‘s in-form sprinter Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) on stage seven of the race, taking his maiden Grand Tour stage victory.
The Irishman deployed a strategy of waiting for the Italian in the maglia ciclamina to launch his sprint, matching him in the final 50 metres and holding his sprint in the final as Viviani faded towards the line, claiming a long-awaited victory.
Bennett has come close a number of times in the Giro d’Italia, but was able to show a phenomenal turn of speed to take the win on the transition stage between mountain stages at this year’s race.
Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida), who punctured shortly before the closing kilometres, was able to claim third place after working himself back in, while Sacha Modolo (EF Education First-Drapac) claimed fourth.
There were no significant changes in the overall standings, with Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) maintaining his lead in the maglia rosa on a fairly calm day for the favourites.
How it happened
After Thursday’s gruelling race up Mount Etna, the Giro returned to the mainland of Italy from Sicily with a 159km route along the Tyrrhenian coast from Pizzo to Praia a Mare.
Despite a course that looked destined for a sprint finish, a breakaway tried to get away after the drop of the flag, with Markel Irizar (Trek-Segafredo) and Davide Ballerini (Androni) getting away with Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) initially.
The peloton didn’t seem happy to let four-time world time trial champion Martin get away, with Quick-Step Floors bringing them back but immediately allowing Irizar and Ballerini to get away with Martin’s team-mate Maxim Belkov.
They established a 4-30 maximum gap, but that was gradually drawn down as the peloton increased the speed in the final 50km.
The gap was down to just 25 seconds with 20km to go, and the initial break was caught with 15.5km remaining on the stage.
Ballerini then attacked again, ultimately in vain, and was caught with 14.2km to go.
There were a couple of attacks in the final 13km, with Tony Martin and then his Katusha team-mates Alex Dowsett and Mads Würtz Schmidt trying to get up the road, but they were quickly marked by the sprinters’ teams.
It was then up to the sprint trains to drive on the pace on, with LottoNL-Jumbo and Lotto-Soudal doing the lion’s share of the work on the run in.
In the final 2km, it looked as though double stage winner Elia Viviani had been left badly placed, but found his way back to the front of the bunch as the final kilometre approached.
From there, Sacha Modolo was the first sprinter to launch on the left hand side of the road with Viviani just behind.
The Quick-Step sprinter then moved round to begin his sprint and go clear to the line, but could do nothing to stop Sam Bennett moving off his wheel and matching his speed in the middle of the road.
Viviani then seemed to fade as the line approached, with Bennett able to hold his speed and take a maiden Grand Tour victory after a number of close attempts.
The Giro returns to the climbs on Saturday with a big weekend in the GC battle. Riders will take on a 209km course from Praia a Mare to the summit finish on Montevergine.
Giro d’Italia 2018 stage seven: Pizzo to Praia a Mare (159km)
1 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 3-45-27
2 Elia Viviani (Ita) Quick-Step Floors
3 Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
4 Sacha Modolo (Ita) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale
5 Danny van Poppel (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
6 Jakub Mareczko (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia
7 Clement Venturini (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale
8 Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo
9 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) BMC Racing Team
10 Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal, all same time
Overall classification after stage seven
1 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 16s
3 Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott, at 26s
4 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 43s
5 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 45s
6 Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team, at 53s
7 Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana Pro Team, at 1-03
8 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 1-10
9 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 1-11
10 Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-12