Sam Bennett continues to prove his unmatchable talent in the sprints, winning stage three of the Vuelta a España in Alicante.
The Irish national champion comfortably made it over the day’s tough climbs and held his position in the peloton as the race culminated in a bunch sprint.
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Trek-Segafredo looked to be perfectly placed in the final 200m with Edward Theuns kicking for the line, but Bennett came from four riders back to ride away and take a clear victory.
Theuns held on for second and third place went to Mitchelton-Scott’s Luka Mezgec. Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) finished safely in the bunch to hold his race lead.
How it happened
The third stage of the 2019 Vuelta had a strong possibility of finishing in a sprint, but after the utter chaos that played out on the road on stage two there were no guarantees.
Starting inland at Ibi. Ciudad del Juguente, the stage followed a meandering route that skirted around the Serra del Maigmo natural park before heading back to the coast, finishing in Alicante after 188km.
The profile included two third category climbs – Puerto de Blar (3.5km at 4.4 per cent) 130km into the stage and then Puerto de Tibi (4.6km at 5.8 per cent) at 151km, before the long 40km descent into the city.
A three-rider breakaway was established early in the day as Ángel Madrazo (Burgos-BH), his team-mate Óscar Cabedo and Euskadi Basque Country-Murias rider Héctor Sáez went clear, pulling out a three-minute gap in the opening 20km.
The breakaway were allowed to extend their advantage to just over six minutes at the maximum, before Sunweb and Deceuninck – Quick-Step worked to close the distance.
With around 80km to race the gap was under three minutes and continued to tumble.
Action finally came on the Puerto de Tibi, as Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt attacked and was followed by four other riders, the breakaway’s advantage slipping to 15 seconds with around 45km to race.
But the De Gendt move was wound in and the breakaway were caught over the top of the climb.
The injection of pace on the Tibi did cause potential upsets for the final, as sprinters Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) were both dropped on the slopes.
Jakobsen made it back on during the descent, but it was unclear how the exertions may impair his sprint, while Gaviria found himself 40 seconds off the back of the bunch with 25km to race.
Despite two team-mates assisting in the chase back on Gaviria struggled to close the gap, coming within 30 seconds of the tail but then slipping back to 45 seconds.
Sam Bennett hadn’t suffered over the climbs and held his place in the peloton, as Jumbo-Visma and Movistar drilled the pace on the front.
With 13km to go, Gaviria was more than a minute back and after conferring with his team-mates the Colombian sat up and gave up the chase.
Into the final 10km it was all set for a bunch sprint, the peloton all together as Jumbo and Movistar continued to control.
With 2,000m to the line Quick-Step made there presence felt at the head of the race, battling with Sunweb to lead charge, with Bennett moving up quickly at 1km.
Into the final 200m, Trek-Segafredo looked to have played a perfect hand with Edward Theuns sat in third wheel and John Degenkolb launching his lead-out sprint at 150m, but Bennett had already kicked first and came from four riders behind to go well clear, finishing two lengths ahead of Theuns at the line.
The Vuelta a España 2019 continues with a 175.5km run from Cullera to El Puig on stage four.
Vuelta a España 2019, stage three: Ibi. Ciudad del Juguete to Alicante (188km)
1. Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 4-25-02
2. Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
3. Luka Mezgec (Slo) Mitchelton-Scott
4. Jon Aberasturi (Esp) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
5. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-Merida
6. Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
7. Fabio Jakobsen (Ned) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
8. Cyril Barthe (Fra) Euskadi Basque Country-Murias
9. Szymon Sajnok (Pol) CCC Team
10. Clément Venturini (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, all at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Sunweb, in 9-51-14
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 2 seconds
3. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education First, at 8s
4. Mikel Nieve (Esp) Mitchelton-Scott, at 22s
5. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 33s
6. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 35s
7. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education First, at 37s
8. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at 38s
9. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 46s
10. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time