Bennett storms to Stage 3 sprint victory in Alicante as Roche retains red
Ireland’s Sam Bennett notched a maiden win on La Vuelta with an emphatic sprint win in Stage 3 ahead of Belgium’s Edward Theuns and Slovenia’s Luka Mezgec.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Bennett, the Irish national champion, won by over a bike length in Alicante on the Costa Blanca with Trek-Segafredo’s Theuns and Mitchelton-Scott’s Mezgec only ever battling for second place.
But there was no place for Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria in the first bunch sprint of the race after the Colombian - who crashed badly in the opening team time trial on Saturday - was distanced on a climb some 40km from the finish.
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Bennett, who is out of contract at the end of the season and riding only his first Grand Tour of the season, praised the efforts of his Bora-Hansgrohe team-mates.
"I can't tell you how relieved I am with that. I knew it was a very fast final and I wanted to kick first," the 28-year-old said. "But I couldn’t have done it without the help of my team, who were perfect today."
Stage 3: Ibi to Alicante - as it happened
An attack by the polka dot jersey Angel Madrazo came right after the start of the 188km stage in southeastern Spain, the Burgos-BH veteran joined by team-mate Diego Rubio and a third Spaniard, Hector Saez of Euskadi-Murias.
The trio built up a maximum lead of around six minutes as the race headed inland for a loop around, but not through, the Serra del Maigmó Natural Park.
Madrazo extended his lead in the KoM standings on the Cat.3 Puerto de Biar which he crested in pole position while Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Oliverio Troia (UAE Team Emirates) controlled the tempo in the peloton behind, paving the way for their sprinters.
The gap had come down to just 30 seconds ahead of the second categorised climb, the Cat.3 Puerto di Tibi, with 45km remaining.
Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt put in an opportunistic attack from the pack on the climb, the Lotto Soudal rider’s move neutralised by a small chasing group that included two Jumbo-Visma riders.
Mindful of the accelerations behind - which saw Dutch champion Jakobsen tailed off alongside fellow sprinter Gaviria - Madrazo danced clear of his fellow escapees in search of the KoM points.
The 31-year-old was caught by Portugal’s Ruben Guerreiro ahead of the summit but still took maximum points to stretch his lead in the polka dot jersey standings.
Spaniard Omar Fraile (Astana) led the streamlined pack over the top just a few seconds in arrears ahead of a long descent which saw the race come back together.
Jakobsen was able to return to the fold but Gaviria, despite help from UAE team-mates Sergio Henao and Marco Marcato, struggled almost a minute off the pace entering the final 25km.
The trio threw in the towel inside the final 15km as Jumbo-Visma continued to set a blistering pace as the race entered the suburbs of Alicante on the Costa Brava.
It was the Sunweb team of race leader Roche and the towering German sprinter Max Walscheid who led the pack going under the flamme rouge and into the final kilometre.
With Bennett’s Bora leadout train muscled out, the Irishman latched onto the back wheels of Trek duo Theuns and John Degenkolb before launching his sprint early on the home straight.
It was easy as pie for the in-form sprinter of the season, with Bennett building on his three wins from the BinckBank Tour to add a career first stage win on the Vuelta.
Jakobsen, perhaps a little short of puff after fighting back from being distanced on the final climb, made a hash of his first chance to make a mark in his debut Grand Tour, the 22-year-old never getting out of the wheels of his QuickStep leadout man Max Richeze.
There were no huge changes in the general classification with Roche retaining his two-second lead over Colombian Stage 2 winner Nairo Quintana of Movistar, with Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) a further six seconds back in third.
Although level on points with Bennett, Quintana retained the green jersey, while Madrazo extended his lead in the polka dot jersey standings. Fifth on GC, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) retained the white jersey as best young rider.
Coming up: Stage 4 - Cullera to El Puig (175.5km)
The likes of Gavria, Jakobsen and Mezgec will have the chance to make amends in the 175.5km fourth stage, which features just the one categorised climb ahead of a flat and fast finish north of Valencia. But with Bennett in the form that he is, it will take something special to stop the Irishman romping to a 13th win of the season.