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Sam Bennett gave Deceuninck – Quick-Step their 24th win of the year as the Irishman sprinted to victory in Visé after an exciting day of racing on Stage 3 at the Tour de Wallonie.
The win, Bennett’s fourth victory of the season, was dedicated to teammates Remco Evenepoel, Fabio Jakobsen and Yves Lampaert, all of whom were injured in the past fortnight.
“This one is for those guys!” Bennett said, “Hopefully they have a good recovery and will join the Wolfpack, where they are missed, as soon as possible. It’s good to have some luck again and we hope it will be again on our side after today.”
The stage saw a number of riders attacking early and establishing a four-minute maximum lead before being reeled in with 40 kilometres remaining. The crucial point of the race turned out to be, unsurprisingly, Côte de Cheratte at a gradient of 12.5%, and it was here that Florian Sénéchal launched an attack which stretched out the field and triggered a powerful surge of Zdenek Stybar. The cobbled Classics specialist leaped away, taking just three riders along with him, before the quartet opened up a promising 20-second margin inside the last eight kilometres.
A furious chase ensued, but the four looked capable of holding off the remnants of the bunch, only to be hauled back just 500 metres from the finish. That was the cue for Sénéchal to set a searing pace at the front of the group that created a split which left just four men in contention. One of them was Sam Bennett, and the 29-year-old Irishman launched a devastating sprint to take a convincing win over Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal).
“I worked really hard the last month and yesterday didn’t reflect that, so I was a bit disappointed. I didn’t expect a big turnaround today, but I just rode and kept fighting over that climb. The team was fantastic, rode incredibly well and I’m so proud of them. The final was harder than yesterday, but I made it and had strong legs in the sprint. I’m happy with this win, one that I really needed with ten days to go until the Tour de France”, Bennett concluded.