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Ireland’s Sam Bennett returned to French roads in Paris-Nice on Sunday to seize the yellow and white leader’s outfit of the “Race to the Sun” for the first time.
The Tour de France green jersey holder was perfectly led out by his Deceuninck- Quick-Step team-mate Michael Morkov to snatch his third win of the season after two stages of the UAE Tour.
The Irishman overpowered France’s Arnaud Demare and former world champion Mads Pedersen in a 166-km first stage around Saint-Cyr-l’École, fatal to 2013 and 2015 winner Richie Porte, who crashed with 33 km to go and was forced out on the first day.
On paper, the 165.8km opening day should have been a quiet one, but the attackers had other plans. As a consequence they attacked in waves inside the last 40 kilometres, forcing the peloton to up the tempo. The peloton began a frantic chase that stretched out the bunch and put many riders in the red.
On the hectic uphill finish, Sam Bennett stayed in a perfect position until the last 200 metres, when he shot out of the pack and sprinted to victory with his hands on the top of his brake levers, putting several bike lengths between him and his opponents.
It was the fourth win of the Carrick-on-Suir native in the “Race to the Sun”, after the ones of 2017 and 2019, one that brought him also two jerseys, yellow and green.
“Coming into the race I didn’t know how my shape would be, because racing here is different from the UAE,” Sam Bennett said. “Here it’s full gas the entire day and today it was another test to see where the legs were. We were a bit blocked in the last kilometres and could come to the front only with two kilometres to go, which was thanks to Michael, who always stays calm and knows what he has to do. I was confident and I just waited for the right moment to go and all I can say is that I’m happy with the kick I had and my victory.”