Irish sprinter Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) took the biggest win of his career to date on Tuesday, beating an array of top sprint names to secure stage three of Paris-Nice.
Bennett topped the top 10 of the stage that read like a who's who of sprint stars, with Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) in second, John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) in third, Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) in fourth and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) in seventh.
Overall race leader Arnaud Démare (FDJ) finished in sixth place to retain the yellow jersey going into Wednesday's stage four time trial.
The day started as Romain Combaud (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Ben King (Dimension Data) launched an early attack. After two tough days featuring poor weather conditions and often chaotic racing, calmer weather enticed the peloton to take it a bit easier and the escape swiftly built up a lead of over seven minutes.
By the time the trio hit the last of the day's two categorised climbs – the second category Côte de Charrecey inside 30km to go – their advantage was just above 40 seconds. Latour attacked over the top to take the maximum king of the mountain points and was followed by Combaud as King dropped back to the bunch.
Both riders really pushed on, adopting a low position on their bikes and taking big turns at the front and they held a half-minute lead in a game of cat-and-mouse with the bunch.
Just inside 4km to go, LottoNL-Jumbo suffered misfortune when their sprinter Dylan Groenewegen crashed on a roundabout, but the incident did not disrupt the pack's chase.
Despite the best efforts of Combaud and Latour, the combined strength of the sprinters' teams at the front of the peloton meant that were caught with just one kilometre to go.
All of the top fastmen then massed to the front and launched their sprints, but Bennett appeared to have a gear higher than his rivals, and cross the line with enough time to celebrate his landmark win with style.
"I was confident in myself. I felt good," said Bennett. "I was just waiting for the right opportunity. I stayed focused all day for this final sprint. I’m very fortunate to have won today in Chalon-sur-Saône. We are experiencing a really tough Paris-Nice edition, so the victory is that more beautiful today."
Démare continues to lead fellow Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) by six seconds overall, with Kristoff moving up to third overall at 13 seconds.
Groenewegen was not the only rider to fall foul of a crash. Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data) crashed heavily during the stage with around 30km to go. He appeared to be the only rider to hit the floor in the incident, and abandoned the race.
After three road stages, the riders now face a crucial individual time trial on Wednesday. The 14.5-kilometre test against the clock runs from Beaujeu to the second category climb of Mont Brouilly, with the latter featuring a tough ramp up to the line over the final 3km.
Paris-Nice 2017, stage three:
1. Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 4-31-14
2. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin
3. John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
4. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Quick-Step Floors
5. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
6. Arnaud Démare (Fra) FDJ
7. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal
8. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis
9. Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Dimension Data
10. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-Scott, all same time
General classification after stage three
1. Arnaud Démare (Fra) FDJ, in 12-14-42
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 6 secs
3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin, at 13 secs
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors, at 17 secs
5. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal, at 19 secs
6. Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Vital Concept, at 21 secs
7. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, at 23 secs
8. Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ, at 23 secs
9. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 23 secs
10. Kristijan Koren (Slo) Cannondale-Drapac, at 31 secs
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