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Sam Bennett pushing clear and riding hard in the breakaway on a day in the mountains at Paris-Nice today. The Irish rider is in awesome form ahead of Milan-Sanremo

Sam Bennett went in the stage-long breakaway on stage 7 of Paris-Nice today, on a day when the other sprinters in the field were getting dropped back in the peloton.

The breakaway went clear on the first climb of the day,
the Gilette, which was added to the course after some route changes to the
final stages of Paris-Nice because of Covid-19.

Attacks went on the climb and once the race had crested the
top of the hill a clear breakaway had formed, with plenty of climbers in there
as well as sprinter Bennett of Deceuninck-QuickStep.

The fact he could get clear, and so obviously wanted to attack such a hard stage, speaks volumes about the way he is approaching the final stages of the race as preparation for Milan-Sanremo next weekend.

Roglic shows no mercy in the final kilometre to deny young Mader

In the breakaway with Bennett were 12 other riders, including
his team mate Mattia Cattaneo.

Also present were: Julien Bernard and Kenny Elissonde (both
Trek-Segafredo), Neilson Powless (EF-Nippo), Andrey Amador and Laurens De Plus
(Ineos Grenadiers), Dylan Teuns and Gino Mader (Bahrain Victorious), Alexey
Lutsenko (Astana), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and
David de la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates).

As the breakaway approached the cat 2 climbs of Col de la
Sigale and Côte de Saint-Antonin – both just over 6km in length – it had about 1½
minutes on the main field.

Back in the bunch it was the Jumbo Visma team of race leader Primoz Roglic making the pace, but riding tempo rather than driving hard to close down the escapees.

Sam Bennett wasn’t just in the breakaway, he was on the front driving and collecting climbers’ points and winning the intermediate sprint

Over the top of the Col de la Sigale, Bennett was not only still in the group but actually took climbers points as he was 3rd over the top.

Bennett also stayed in the group over the second climb,
doing a lot of work in the move to pull the breakaway along. He was well able
to hold his place and work even when king of the hills jersey wearer Perez’s
day out front came to an end.

At the uphill intermediate sprint Bennett took maximum
points after the gap enjoyed by the breakaway had gone well over 2½ minutes
only to begin falling a little.

With 25km to go the gap was down to 1½ minutes and the 12-man breakaway was still intact; Sam Bennett still there and doing a lot of work. And when Powless, Bernard, Lutsenko got a gap in the breakaway and Mader went after them, Bennett was able to move with the Swiss rider.

Gino Mader, an emerging Swiss rider, was the strongest in the breakaway and looked like he may hang on to win. But Roglic showed no mercy and mowed in down within touching distance of the finish line

With the gap still over one minute, Bennett only finally
began to pay for his efforts just before the final climb of the day. But he
really only looked in difficulty just as the race dipped inside the final 30km.

Indeed, Bennett was looking around and trying to help his
team mate Cattaneo – only two minutes off yellow this morning – before he
finally lost his place in the breakaway with 17km to go.

It was an incredible ride by him and – along with his two
stage wins at Paris-Nice – will give him a lot of confidence going into Milan

When the breakaway hit the final climb of 16km today, up to the finish line at Valdeblore La Colmiane after 119km of racing, it had just over one minute in hand.

At times Roglic looked a bit laboured today, but appearances were deceptive as he was on a different level at the finish, as Gino Mader found out

From the moment the breakaway and the
remains of the peloton started climbing, both groups got smaller and smaller
until it was just Mader out front alone.

And while the Swiss rider looked like he
had the stage win in the bag, attacks from the constantly-reducing select group
saw the riders close up to him.

When Roglic attacked from the select
group in the final 500 metres he rapidly gained on Mader, catching and passing
him in the final 50 metres to win the stage and extend his GC lead.

A stunned Mader was 2nd, just two seconds down, followed by Max Schachmann (Bora-hansgrohe) at five seconds.  Sam Bennett rode up the final climb to finish in 128th at 23:33.

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