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Sam Bennett and Mads Pedersen were way out in front just before the finish line, but that wasn’t how it worked out by the time they hit the finish

Sam Bennett (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team) may have achieved what seemed impossible, beating Mads Pedersen (Lidl Trek), in the final sprint at Tour de la Provence but it still was not enough to take his first victory of the season.

While the Dane and the Irishman were the two fancied sprinters in the front group, and looked like they were in a two-up battle for 1st and 2nd during the gallop, Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel-Premier Tech) came through with a brilliant final surge to pip Bennett on the line.

The overhead shot told the story of the sprint finish into Arles; Pedersen and Bennett fading having gone early into the headwind and Van Asbroeck timing his effort much better to deny the Irishman on the line.

Indeed, the stage winner came through so late that just a few metres before the line Bennett looked like he had what would have been confidence-boosting first victory of the season.

In the end he had to settle for a tight 2nd place, with Axel Zingle (Cofidis) 3rd, Hugo Hofstetter (Israel-Premier Tech) 4th and Pedersen fading to 5th, though he won the first three stages of the race and was crowned overall victor today.

Bennett, who moved up to 8th in the final standings, would have won today has his lead-out man Pierre Gautherat lasted a bit longer into the headwind. However, the 21-year-old Frenchman did his very best on what was a tricky finish to judge; slightly uphill and into a headwind.

That gallop was contested by a front group of less than 30 riders as cross-tail winds split the field to pieces today. Bennett will be disappointed he did not win today, but he rode well and had plenty in the tank for the sprint, which he can be happy with after a very hard 183km stage.

With about 110km to go the breakaway of the day still had seven minutes of an advantage. However, over the next 40km four minutes was trimmed off that gap as the cross-tailwinds blew apart the main field. A front group, of about 25 riders, including Bennett, forged clear in pursuit of the breakaway.

That pressure which split the bunch into several large groups ramped up the pace, costing the breakaway, which was eventually joined by the 30-strong Bennett-Pedersen group.

However, the number of men up front continued to whittle down for the remainder of the stage as the strongest rode through at the front, looking for shelter from the crosswinds.

The weaker riders sat at the back, more exposed to the wind, which eventually cost some of them their place up front. By the finish, the group numbered just 25 riders, and may of those were tailed off in the final kilometre.

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