Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) left it late to storm around Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) in the final sprint of Paris-Nice 2019 stage six and take victory.
Frenchman Démare launched his sprint first from a reduced bunch having been dropped off by his final leadout man Jacopo Guarnieri, power down the left of the road with 200m to go.
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It looked like he might have it as rivals like Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) struggled to match his speed, but Bennett was able to come from way back to latch on to Démare’s wheel before surging round him to the right and stealing it on the line.
It’s the Irishman’s second victory of the race after winning stage three on Tuesday, and his third career victory at Paris-Nice.
Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) retains the overall lead of the race by 18 seconds over his team-mate Egan Bernal and 22 seconds over Astana’s Luis León Sánchez.
How it happened
While the major mountains still loomed at the weekend for the Paris-Nice peloton, stage six still looked a difficult test with three categorised climbs along the 176.5km route.
The position of the climbs also made it difficult to call how the stage would end, but inevitably a breakaway tried to get away early on with an eye on taking victory from an escape.
Alex Kirsch (Trek-Segafredo), Laurent Pichon (Arkea Samsic), Mauro Finetto (Delko-Marseille-Provence) and Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) formed the early escape, though the presence of Calmejane (at 2-15 down on GC) limited their progress.
Once the Frenchman drifted back to the peloton with around 163km to go, the remaining three riders were allowed to gain more leeway, however nothing that would give them hope that they might contest the stage win, with just under three minutes maximum gap.
They had just over a minute as they reached the first of three climbs of the day with around 70km to go, with the bunch now bearing down on them as they really began to race.
In the peloton, the first climb saw the group split with Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) unable to stay in touch, slipping into second group and out of contention for a third stage win of the race.
It was only around 20km later when the break was finally absorbed by the first group of around 70 riders, shortly before the second climb of the day.
All the main GC contenders remained in the front group, with the only real action between them coming with around 30km to go when Ion Izagirre led out Sánchez in search of bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint point. Uncontested, Sánchez took the three points to cut his deficit to Kwiatkowski and Bernal in GC.
There were no splits in the group on the final category two climb of the day before the finish, with Mitchelton-Scott happy to set the pace on the front as they looked to set things up for Matteo Trentin.
Shortly after the climb with 4km to go, Sánchez looked to try and grab more bonus seconds with Izagirre’s help at the final intermediate sprint.
Race leader Kwiatkowski was able to follow though, and beat the Spaniard to the three second bonus in a sprint for the line.
Meanwhile, a crash took place towards the back of the peloton, with Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), who had hung on over the climbs, brought down and taken out of the running with 3km to go.
Still, a good number of sprinters including Bennett, Démare, Degenkolb and Trentin among others remained, with Groupama-FDJ taking control of the front of the bunch heading into the final kilometre.
Despite the French team being able to drop off Démare in prime position, there was nothing he could do to stop a flying Sam Bennett from coming past him just before the line to grab the victory.
Paris-Nice continues with stage seven on Saturday, a 181.5km race from Nice to a summit finish on the Col de Turini.
Paris-Nice 2019, stage six: Peynier to Brignoles (176.5km)
1 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 4-12-35
2 Arnaud Démare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
3 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
4 John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
5 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Vital Concept-B&B Hotels
6 Anthony Turgis (Fra) Direct Energie
7 Florian Sénéchal (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step
8 Oliver Naesen (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Alexander Kristoff (Fra) UAE Team Emirates
10 Egan Arley Bernal Gomez (Col) Team Sky, all same time
General classification after stage six
1 Michał Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, in 21-35-36
2 Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky, at 18 seconds
3 Luis León Sánchez (Esp) Astana Pro Team, at 22 secs
4 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 1-00
5 Bob Jungels (Lux) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at same time
6 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, at 1-04
7 Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-08
8 Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1-17
9 Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-21
10 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 1-24