After a tortuous two days in the saddle, the peloton were treated to a much calmer day today, raincoats no longer a mandatory garment. It was the Irishman, Sam Bennett, who made the most of this blip in nice weather, beating the likes of Kittel, Degenkolb and Demare in the dash for the line. This win marks Bora Hansgrohe’s first in the World Tour, undoubtedly giving Bennett bragging rights over his teammate Peter Sagan.
With the sun finally shining across France today, the peloton lapped up the opportunity and began the day at a leisurely pace; stretching the tired muscles from the past two torrid days gone by. As the bunch enjoyed their rudimentary pace, three riders forged an escape as the race left the starting town of Chablis.
These were AG2R’s Pierre Latour, Dimension Data’s Ben King and Romain Combaud, riding for the second division Deklo Marseille team. Together the trio worked well out front, quickly pulling out a gap of over seven minutes on the peloton. With a Cat 2 climb only 25km before the finish, there was a possibility that the day could have been claimed by a lucky escape.
Aware of the danger of this growing advantage, it was the super team of FDJ that hit the front, limiting the breaks advantage going into the second half of the stage. Seeing the peloton all together at this point was a welcome sight, especially after the splits experienced on the first two stages; many others also relished this fact and a positive mood ebbed through the peloton across the day.
With 30km left to race, Fortuneo-Vital Concept joined FDJ at the head of the peloton and increased the pace in hope of catching the breakaway and setting up their sprinter Dan McLay for the bunch finish. As the escapees hit the Cat 2 climb their gap had been reduced to a mere 1:30 from the peloton, sensing their doomed fate the trio became a duo as Ben King dropped back to the peloton.
As the peloton approached Chalon Sur Saone the parcour became a lot more technical and a series of roundabouts in the final 4km proved some riders undoing, most notably Dutch champion and favourite for the day, Dylan Groenwegen. Greipel also lost leadout men in the tumble and soon found himself isolated at the head of affairs.
Despite their gap being reduced to 50 seconds with 20km to go, the two escapees of Latour and Combaud managed to hang on all the way until the final kilometre, never relinquishing hope until they had passed under the red kite. They were swiftly absorbed by a rampaging Quickstep team who lead the peloton with their three man leadout in prime position.
As Quickstep lead down the right hand side of the road, it was Katusha who broke through on the left, Kristoff slotted nicely into the wheels of his leadout men. Behind the Norwegian was Ireland’s Sam Bennett, surfing wheels in the final kilometre in the absence of any supporting teammates.
At the 250m to go mark, Fabio Sabatini released Kittel in poll position, however, the German tired instantly and soon found himself backpedaling, just managing to hold on for a measly fourth place. The fast men came from the left as Kristoff punched his way through to lock shoulders with an accelerating Degenkolb. Bennett followed the wheel of Kristoff and soon peeled off, kicking for the line.
Bennett’s burst of speed was incredible and he quickly overhauled all the others, comfortably winning by over a bike length at the finish line. The man from Carrick-on-Suir in Ireland has once again brought Paris Nice glory back to his home town, fellow alumni Sean Kelly winning this race on seven successive occasions back in 1982-1988.
Demare holds onto the race lead as Kristoff leaps over Gilbert into a podium position. All this is likely to change tomorrow however, the ITT will finally sift through the GC and filter out those riders eyeing up the overall victory. The stage is only 14km in length but it does boast a tough climb to the finish, 3km at 7.7%. It will likely be a battle between the GC men tomorrow, all of them aiming for a high placing and possibly even a stage win that would yield a healthy amount of bonus seconds.
My money is on Jan Barta, quite literally this time. A Paddy Power account has been opened and money has been placed on the man from the Czech Republic; whilst we haven’t seen him shine for a while, he is a fan of the uphill TTs and at 300/1 that is an offer that I just couldn’t refuse…
Video Credit: Le Tour De France (Youtube) URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDnakhiXFpI
Stage 3 results:
1 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe 4:31:14
2 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin
3 John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
4 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Quick-Step Floors
5 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
6 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
7 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal
8 Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
9 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Dimension Data
10 Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-Scott
Overall classification after stage 3:
1 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ 12:14:42
2 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:06
3 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin 0:00:13
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:17
5 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal 0:00:19
6 Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo – Vital Concept 0:00:21
7 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky 0:00:23
8 Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ
9 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors
10 Kristijan Koren (Slo) Cannondale-Drapac 0:00:31