Sam Bennett's stress at missing the Tour de France was further heightened on Monday when, on the day of the Tour's first bunch sprint, his team manager continued his verbal attack on the Irishman. Speaking to a number of media outlets, Deceuninck-QuickStep chief Patrick Lefevere claimed Bennett was mentally weak and wasn't frank about his knee injury. He also called him disrespectful.
“I’m the boss. No? Clear? I sent him a message . . . he said he was on the bike, so I supposed he would call me after. But he didn’t call me. So it says a lot more about him than me. I don’t know if you have a boss but I learnt since I was a kid that the guy who pays you is the boss and he deserves respect. He didn’t show me respect.”
Lefevere also suggested that he may prevent Bennet from competing. “If he behaves himself he will race,” he told Cyclingnews. “If not, then three months less riding and 50 per cent less salary.”
Bennett won two stages plus the green jersey for the squad last year, and clocked up seven wins earlier this season.
Meanwhile, a day after Mathieu van der Poel took a Tour debut stage win for his Alpecin-Fenix squad, Tim Merlier continued the team's success with a sprint win into Pontivy. The Belgian is also riding his first Tour and benefited from generous pace-setting from race leader Van der Poel to triumph, reaching the line ahead of another teammate Jasper Philipsen, Nacer Bouhanni (Team Arkéa Samsic) and others.
Merlier's sprint was aided by the absence of several sprint riders. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) crashed inside the final 150 metres and brought down Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), with the tangle impeding other sprinters. General classification riders fell too during what was a chaotic stage: the 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (Ineos-Grenadiers) tumbled early on and reportedly suffered a dislocated shoulder that was popped back into place by a member of the team's medical staff.
He ultimately rejoined the bunch and finished 26 seconds behind Merlier, but the 2020 Tour runner-up Primoz Roglic didn't have such luck. He fell with ten kilometres to go, shredding his jersey and shorts, and lost one minute 21 seconds. Alejandro Valverde and Miguel Ángel López (both Movistar Team) also finished in this group, while last year's Tour winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) was delayed by a crash but only lost 26 seconds.
Ireland's Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) stayed upright but was also delayed, rolling in over two minutes back. He is chasing stage wins rather than a high overall finish.
The rejigged general classification saw Van der Poel remain eight seconds clear of stage one winner Julien Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep). Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) jumps 15 places to third overall, courtesy of the time lost by other rivals. Pogacar slips from third to sixth and is now 39 seconds back, while Roglic slides from fourth to 20th. He is now one minute 35 seconds behind and, injuries aside, is facing a serious battle to get back into overall contention.
Many riders will rue what was seen as a dangerous route, but not so stage winner Merlier. “I can’t believe that I won a stage in the Tour. It is really, really a dream.”