An emotional Sam Bennett at last wins at the Tour de France
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The Irishman was moved to tears during his post-victory interview, in what was an understandable and touching response to finally achieving something he has for years pursued.
For a long time, Bennett has seemed capable of winning sprints at the Tour, but was denied the opportunity to go for one. Despite winning three stages at the 2018 Giro d’Italia, his team at the time, Bora-Hansgrohe, decided not to select him for the Tour in either 2018 or 2019, preferring not to complicate matters by adding another sprinter to a line-up that already included Peter Sagan.
That prompted the Irishman to look for another team, and signed a contract with Deceuninck-Quick-Step for 2020, with the Tour de France his major goal.
The first week showed plenty of promise, but the win remained elusive. He finished fourth, third and second in the sprints, with victory in the latter seemingly in the bag, before Lotto-Soudal’s Caleb Ewan pipped him to the line.
This accumulation of frustrations seemed to intensify his emotions upon finally winning today. ”I thought I’d be in floods of tears, but I’m in shock,” he said at the finish, before promptly bursting into tears, the significance of his achievement apparently just sinking in.
It was a poignant reminder of just how much it means for a cyclist — even one who has achieved so much in other races — to win at the Tour de France.
Sagan again cedes green to Bennett
In what was a fantastic day all-round for Sam Bennett, the Irishman also gained enough points in the green jersey classification to take the jersey away from Peter Sagan.
Earlier in the day, Sagan had marginally extended his lead at the intermediate sprint, committing himself far more than the Irishman to take second behind Matteo Trentin (CCC), with Bennett in third.
Bennett won the sprint that really mattered, however, and regains the green jersey having lost it to the Slovakian five days ago.
Sagan did at least show better form in the sprints than he did during the first week, with third place being his highest finish at this year’s Tour so far. He’ll no doubt be targeting the hillier terrain later this week as an opportunity to take points ahead of Bennett, but could see his deficit increase further if tomorrow ends in, as expected, another bunch finish.
With Bennett now having achieved his primary ambition of winning a stage, the Irishman may now turn his attention towards being fully committed to winning the jersey, setting up what looks like the most tightly-fought green jersey contest in years.
Windy conditions make for a nervous day
The wind may not have blown the race to pieces as it did on stage seven, and all the GC favourites may have finished safely in the peloton together, but the constant threat posed by the exposed roads was enough to make for an extremely nervous day.
There were signs early on of the carnage this stage could potentially produce, when the peloton was split to pieces. On this occasion, only riders already way down on GC, like Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) were caught out, discouraging anyone in the peloton from pressing on, and therefore ensuring the race came back together.
A tense battle for positioning waged throughout the final 30km, with the likes of Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma and most of the other GC teams all taking turns at the front to ensure their leaders were as close to the front as possible.
The race again split, and this time with some bigger GC names were among the casualties — namely, ninth overall Miguel Ángel López (Astana), and 17th overall Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). However, neither rider was deemed worthy of commitment to distance, and the pace again relented enough for them to catch back up.
For all the tension, the GC situation remains exactly as it did at the start of the stage.
Crashes disrupt the race
It wasn’t just the wind that riders had to contend with today. With innumerable road furniture to navigate, and a seemingly endless number of roundabouts, there were enough hazards to make crashes virtually an inevitability.
Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) and Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo) were among those to fall early in the day, but it wasn’t until 65km from the finish that any serious GC contenders were caught up, when Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) fell.
Given their high placings on GC — seventh for Pogačar, third for Martin — seeing them hit the deck drew an anxious intake of breath. Thankfully, both appeared unhurt, with Pogačar back with the peloton in no time, and Martin, despite taking longer and falling over a minute behind, also eventually making it back safely.
Worse off was Pogačar’s team-mate Davide Formolo, who went down far harder in the same crash, and was the last rider over the line, 16-44 behind the peloton. Pogačar will be desperately hoping he can recover to continue riding, as the Italian will arguably be his most important domestique in the mountains, especially following the abandonment for Fabio Aru on Sunday.
One final crash occurred with 17km to go, and yet again a big name was involved — Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers). Just as well for the Ecuadorian that the racing didn’t really take off in the crosswinds, as it enabled him to make his way back to the peloton, and therefore not lose any more time. At 3-42 down he’s hardly a yellow jersey contender, but could yet post a high overall finish on debut, as well as play a role in aid of team leader Egan Bernal
The peloton gets the all clear despite Covid worries
It’s been a long time since headlines featuring the words “positive test” abounded during and following the rest day of the Tour de France, but that serene run had looked under threat today.
The “positive tests” in question might this time have been in relation to Covid-19, and not the scandal of a doping misdemeanour, but still had just as much potential to disrupt the race.
Thankfully, despite much speculation and rumours, and the fact that race director Christian Prudhomme tested positive, every single rider returned a negative test, and will therefore be able to continue to race.
That feels like something of a surprise, and arguably more a case of fortune than a result of successful protocols. Scenes in the Pyrenees of riders being surrounded by spectators not wearing masks were a particular worry.
Nevertheless, the race can continue as normal for now — at least until the next round of testing. To avoid any positive cases this time next week, both the organisers and roadside fans have a responsibility to do more to protect the riders.