Sam Bennett secured a hat-trick of victories in a photo finish on stage three of the 2019 BinckBank Tour.
The Irish national champion came from behind Dylan Groegewegen (Jumbo-Visma) in the final 10 metres and threw his bike with perfect timing, topping the Dutchman by the narrowest of margins.
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An initial four-rider breakaway failed early in the stage with another three riders going clear later in the day, including Brit Harry Tanfield (Katusha-Alpecin), but the sprint teams secured the bunch finish once again.
A crash in the final turn split the front of the race, with the strongest sprinters Bennett, Groenwegen and Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) avoiding trouble and all fighting for the podium places.
It was Bora-Hansgrohe’s Bennett once again who proved his imperious form by taking the lead right at the line.
Bennett extends his overall race lead once again as he becomes the first rider to ever win three-in-a-row at the BinckBank Tour.
How it happened
Another flat day of racing on narrow and winding roads faced the peloton on stage three of the BinckBank Tour.
The 166.9km route started and finished Aalter between Ghent and Bruges in Belgium, with eight short cobbles sectors the main features on the course, the last of which came 17km from the finish.
An initial breakaway went clear as the flag dropped, with Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha-Alpecin), Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Jan-Willem van Schip (Roompot-Charles) and Aaron Verwilst pulling out a two-minute advantage in the opening 20km.
But it wasn’t to be the main breakaway of the day, as Kuznetsov suffered puncture and had to rejoin the peloton at 128km to go, and Lotto-Soudal set the pace and the escapees were caught with 72km to race.
After a handful of failed attacks, a new trio formed a breakaway at the 50km mark, with Harry Tanfield, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (CCC Team) and Stijn Steels (Roompot-Charles) stealing a 20-second gap.
The three escapees pulled out a minute advantage with 22km to go, helped by the winding roads and the threat of rain, with the roads slightly damp.
Inside 10km it became clear that that Tanfield and his companions would need a miracle to make it to the line and they were finally caught with 3.2km left to race, setting up the bunch finish.
There was drama in the final turn as EF Education First’s Sep Vanmarcke crashed, causing a split right at the front of the bunch.
All the main sprinters made it through unharmed, but Bennett’s bike was damaged in the incident and his gears weren’t working properly on the final straight.
Philipsen launched too early once again, as Groenewegen followed his wheel and looked to have perfectly played this final.
But as he approached the line, his chances began to fade as Bennett rapidly gained ground on his rival, looking over all the time to see where Groenwegen was on the road.
It came down to the bike throw, with Bennett narrowly sneaking his wheel in front of Groenewegen to take a third win out of three.
Groenewegen missed out on a third opportunity and was forced to take second, with Philipsen continuing his consistent run and taking third.
Bennett now leads the race by 20 seconds over Philipsen and Groenewegen thanks to time bonuses.
BinckBank Tour 2019, stage three: Aalter to Aalter (166.9km)
1. Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 3-48-36
2. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
3. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) UAE Team Emirates
4. Jürgen Roelandts (Bel) Movistar
5. Florian Sénéchal (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
6. Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
7. Timothy Dupont (Bel) Wanty-Gobert
8. Jakub Mareczko (Ita) CCC Team
9. Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
10. Amaury Capiot (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, all at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 11-16-23
2. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) UAE Team Emirates, at 20 seconds
3. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
4. Łukasz Wiśniowski (Pol) CCC Team, at 22s
5. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) CCC Team, at same time
6. Lars Bak (Den) Dimension Data, at 23s
7. Josef Černy (Cze) CCC Team
8. Harry Tanfield (GBr) Katusha-Alpecin, all at same time
9. Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, 24s
10. Robert Stannard (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at same time