Next stop the Champs-Elysées in green for Sam Bennett

Tadej Pogacar set for Tour de France glory after dramatic penultimate time trial stage

Irish rider Sam Bennett wearing the best sprinter’s green jersey during the 20th stage of the 107th edition of the Tour de France. Photograph: EPA

Irish rider Sam Bennett wearing the best sprinter’s green jersey during the 20th stage of the 107th edition of the Tour de France. Photograph: EPA

 

Only 122km to ride, less than half of that to Paris, then eight laps of the Champs-Elysées dressed up in green. It should indeed be all smiles from here.

After safely negotiating the tricky time trail to La Planche des belles Filles that was stage 20, Sam Bennett is now virtually certain to win that race for the points classification jersey in the 107th Tour de France, and is already turning his attention to winning Sunday’s last stage in green and writing another chapter in Irish cycling history.

Barring an accident, Bennett’s 55-point lead is ample cushion over the defending green jersey champion Peter Sagan - the Slovak rider already conceding as much. There are still 70 points up for grabs, 69 actually separating the top three, only Bennett has now repeatedly shown he has legs on both Sagan and the third-placed Italian Matteo Trentin.

The 36.2km from Lure to the ski station at La Planche des belles Filles was a sort of hybrid time trail, flat out for the first 30km, before the properly steep 6.2.km climb, and only 146 riders from the original 176 that started out in Nice three weeks ago made it this far.

For Bennett it was about distributing and conserving as much energy as possible. Finishing in one hour, five minutes and 55 seconds (and comfortably within the 25 per cent time cut), Bennett admitted he possibly over-extended himself a little bit, and for good reason.

“We had a plan, with the coach, for the tempo that we would set,” he said. “I went a little over it, just to be sure, because it looked like a time trial that you could actually lose a lot of time on. So I wanted to be sure I made it tomorrow.

“It was a little bit hard, but looking forward to tomorrow now.”

In truth it was a generous enough time cut, though Bennett wasn’t taking any chances: “We tried to work that out, with power to weight, then look at the watts. Just chasing numbers. I definitely went a bit over, but I worked so hard to get to this point, I couldn’t make any fatal mistake.”

So he goes into Sunday’s final stage, the 122km from Mantes-la-Jolie to the checkered flag the Champs-Elysées looking for his second stage win, after the stage 10 finish at Île de Ré, and the possibility of becoming the first ride wearing the green jersey to win the final stage since Mark Cavendish, back in 2011.

Bennett has little fear of being ready to challenge for it: “It’s only one hour (the time trial), okay you can do a lot of damage in one hour, but I’ve the whole evening, tomorrow morning, I’ve a lot of time to recover.”

Indeed Stage 21 doesn’t start until Mantes-la-Jolie 4pm Irish time, the finish line expected to be reached by 7pm. After the first 56km, via Versailles, the stage then greets Paris, first racing through the courtyard of the Louvre, before taking on eight roughly 7km laps up and down the Champs-Elysées and around the Arc de Triomphe.

The Intermediate Sprint points (20 for the winner) will be decided after the third lap, before the maximum of 50 points for the outright stage winner on the line. With his 55 point lead, 319 points to Sagan’s 264, the numbers here are all in Bennett’s favour.

Indeed after conceding three more points during Friday’s stage 19 to Champagnole, Sagan sent his congratulations to Bennett via social media, although indicated he certainly hasn’t give up yet on that final stage win.

“I tried in every way possible today to go for the win and the team did its best to make that option happen,” said Sagan. “Once again, we gave our best and I will certainly give it my all to try and win in Paris. Congratulations to Sam Bennett for his green jersey in this Tour de France.”

What is certain is that Sagan and his Bora-Hansgrohe team will have made Bennett and his Deceuninck-QuickStep team work for the jersey for almost all the 3,482.4km that has made up this Tour de France - this also being the first race for the green jersey Sagan has actually lost in the seven Tours that he’s finished.

After winning five in succession from 2012 to 2016, Sagan was favourite to win again in 2017, before being disqualified after the stage 4 sprint finish in Vittel, where Cavendish crashed. Sagan won again for the last two years, and could have been seeking his ninth in a row (he was later exonerated for his role in that Cavendish crash).

For Bennett, Sunday also presents the chance to win the final stage dressed in green, a feat Sagan, nor indeed Seán Kelly, could never manage. Either way he will be the first Irish rider to wear the green jersey into Paris since Kelly, in 1989, the year before Bennett was born. A new chapter in Irish cycling history beckons.

Yellow jersey

There was a sensational and dramatic change in the final battle for the maillot jaune between two Slovenians who had been so close throughout the three weeks of the Tour. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), known for his prowess against the clock, conceded the 57-second lead he held over his compatriot Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), who will now become the first Slovenian Tour winner when the race reaches Paris.

Pogacar, who won the time trial outright with his time of 55 minutes and 55 seconds, finished the stage one minute and 56 seconds ahead of Roglic, who had worn yellow for the last two weeks and was considered virtually certain to win. But Pogacar now leads overall by 59 seconds.

Clearly in trouble at the base of the 6km climb, not helped by a poor bike exchange, Roglic lost 30 seconds within the next 2km, and there was no stopping Pogacar after that, his young rival who doesn’t turn 22 until Monday.

There was a change in third place too after Richie Porte got himself onto the podium after years of trying, the Australian finishing 3:25 behind in the overall race.

It was the most dramatic final time trial since Paris in 1989, when Greg LeMond overtook Laurent Fignon to win by eight seconds.

Pogacar also wins the polka dot jersey as the best climber, and the white jersey as the best young rider. He also beat Roglic to the win the Slovenian time trial title on a hilly parcours in June, after all. However, the Jumbo-Visma man easily got the better of Pogacar in the Pau time trial at last year’s Vuelta a España, their only head-to-head encounter in the discipline in a previous Grand Tour.

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