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Sam Bennett, far left and behind winner Arvid de Kleijn at the end of stage 2 at Paris-Nice (Photo: Billy Ceusters)

Sam Bennett is a five-time stage winner at Paris-Nice and, with that record in mind, his 6th place on today’s stage 2 of the ‘Race to the Sun’ wasn’t, on the face of it, much to write home about.

However, after going backwards – badly – in the final sprint yesterday, and finishing behind some of the general classification riders, the Irishman with Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale put in a more convincing performance today.

He was forced to tip the brakes and stop pedaling a couple of times in the final sprint to the line into Montargis as he ran into traffic. And that meant his final position wasn’t really a fair reflection of the extra zip he showed compared to 24 hours earlier.

Indeed there were several reasons for Bennett to be cheerful after today’s finish – despite the result – with Oliver Naesen’s final lead-out effort top of that list. The Belgian rider did quite a good impression of Michael Mørkøv deep inside the final kilometre, strongly piloting his Irish sprinter in his wheel.

The only criticism of the former Belgian champion was that he didn’t keep his effort going for even slightly longer. He dropped Bennett off at the front just a little early.

Just a few seconds too early to pull the trigger, Bennett paused for a moment and then found himself on the back wheel of Maikel Zijlaard (Tudor Pro Cycling Team) just as he had completed his lead-out for eventual stage winner Arvid de Kleijn.

As Zijlaard slowed and pulled over, Bennett had to change his line and then had to stop pedaling and brake as he was blocked a little by Dylan Groenewegen (Team Jayco AlUla) and then Danny van Poppel (Bora-hansgrohe).

It wasn’t until right before the line that Bennett found space to his right and fully opened his sprint. But it was hopelessly too late and he played a secondary role in the gallop, won by a delighted de Kleijn from Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) and Groenewegen.

However, it was a much better finish – though coming after a less hectic stage – than 20th yesterday, when Bennett was forced to make too many efforts in the final few kilometres. And the performance of Naesen today is definitely something for Bennett to latch on to for the days and weeks ahead.

Naesen’s ride in the final kilometre – finding space in the road and dragging Bennett to the front without pulling his legs off – is the first sign of a proper lead-out we’ve seen at Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale so far this season.

Bennett said that he and his team got caught out yesterday, lost position into the final kilometres and simply had to dig too deep to regain lost ground. That resulted in his poke having already been spent by the time the kick for the line began.

“I tried to move up after the last left-hander and I blew up completely,” Bennett said of yesterday, though today reiterated his condition was good. “With Ollie and Dries (de Bondt), it’s our first race together.

“So we have to get a feel for how we move, what our capacities are as a unit and then afterwards we can make a more detailed plan. But, for now, it’s about being more open and reacting and just using our experience.”

Tomorrow the riders face a 26.9km TTT in Auxerre, with Groupama-FDJ’s Pithie enjoying something a dream moment; the 21-year-old now leading Paris Nice, riding for a French team.

He is in yellow at an iconic race in just his second season as a World Tour rider and just weeks after winning his first World Tour race, at the ‘Cadel Evans’ in Australia.


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