Sam Bennett delivered a perfectly-executed sprint after a classic lead-out performance on stage five of Paris-Nice 2021.
The Irishman benefitted from a textbook lead-out by his Deceuninck – Quick-Step team-mates in the final 2km, setting up an almost guaranteed victory in the sprint for the line.
After a sedate pace throughout most of the stage, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) finished in the bunch to maintain his race lead with three stages remaining.
How it happened
The fifth stage of a Paris-Nice was a return to centre stage for the sprinters after a tough day of climbing on stage four.
Raced over 200km from Vienne to Bollène near France’s Mediterranean coast, the stage was almost entirely downhill, as the peloton lost altitude over the opening 150km.
The course featured one categorised climb, the 1.4km-long, 4.8 per cent gradient Cote de Saint-Restitute, which fell around 40km from the finish.
Riders then had to tackle another uncategorised ramp in the final 20km, before turning their attention to the final 9km, a gradual uphill run to the finish line.
The stage got underway in Vienne under a very sedate pace, as no riders tried to attack as the flag dropped.
Surprisingly, the peloton remained whole for the entire opening section as it became clear no traditional breakaway would be formed, with riders cruising at low speed through the day.
The first action on the stage finally opened up with around 70km to the line, as a bizarre all-Belgian attack at the front of the bunch went clear.
All 11 Belgian riders, including Philippe Gilbert, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Victor Camenaerts (Qhubeka-Assos), pulled out a modest gap, but they were reeled back in quickly and with 67km to the line the peloton was whole once more.
Riders then continued their amble to the line, with Intermarché-Wanty-Gober Matériaux, Jumbo-Visma and EF Education-Nippo holding at the front of the bunch.
The pace remained sedate, but that didn’t stop the usual flow of crashes in the bunch, as Laurens De Plus (Ineos Grenadiers) touched down in an incident inside the final 40km, which was then quickly followed by a crash involving race leader Roglič when Jumbo-Visma’s workhorse Tony Martin clipped a curb and tumbled to the floor, taking Roglič down with him.
Roglič was able to re-mount the bike and quickly re-join the bunch, but Martin came off worse and was forced to abandon the race.
Into the final 10km and teams finally started to look to the sprint finish, with Deceuninck – Quick-Step taking on the responsibility for setting the pace. Trek-Segafredo also took up the front along with Groupama-FDJ for Arnaud Demare.
But into the final 2km Deceuninck still had three riders in front of Bennett, with the Belgian squad overpowering the other sprint trains.
With 900m to go it was clear Deceuninck had opted for a traditional lead-out train to deliver Bennett to the line.
Bennett waited and waited on the wheel of his team-mate Michael Mørkøv, before finally launching his move just 150m from the line.
Despite a formidable surge from Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic), Bennett was already at full speed and would not be overcome, taking his second victory of this year’s race.
After his fall, Roglič finished safely in the bunch to hold the leader’s jersey for another day, while second place Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) was able to knock four seconds off his deficit thanks to bonus seconds out on the road.
Paris-Nice 2021 stage five, Vienne to Bolléne (200.2km)
1. Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 5-16-01
2. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Arkéa-Samsic
3. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
4. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain Victorious
5. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Qhubeka-Assos
6. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
7. Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM
8. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis
9. Rudy Barbier (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation
10. Danny van Poppel (Ned0 Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, all at same time
General classification after stage five
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 18-42-46
2. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 31s
3. Brandon McNulty (USA) UAE Team Emirates, at 37s
4. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech, at 40s
5. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at 41s
6. Matteo Jorgenson (USA) Team DSM, at 56s
7. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Team DSM, at 1-04
8. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) Team BikeExchange, at 1-08
9. Luis León Sánchez (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech, at 1-11
10. Pierre Latour (Fra) Total Direct Energie, at 1-12