Sam Bennett stands on the verge of winning the green jersey at the Tour de France after he increased his lead in the points classification as Soren Kragh Andersen won stage 19 in Champagnole.
Bennett marked former world champion Peter Sagan throughout the 166.5km stage from Bourg-en-Bresse to increase his advantage to 55 points going into the final weekend, while Primoz Roglic retained the yellow jersey and his 57-second lead over fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.
Though not quite there mathematically, Bennett looks all but certain to win the classification barring an incident between now and Paris on Sunday.
“It’s growing day by day but it’s still not finished,” Bennett said of his advantage.
“Today was the most dangerous day, it was a critical day. I want to thank the team for the amazing job they did, and I think I even out-performed myself. I didn’t expect to be able to ride like that.”
Bennett is looking to become the first Irishman to win any classification in the Tour since Sean Kelly took green for the fourth time in 1989, and to end Sagan’s stranglehold on a classification he has won a record seven times since 2012.
The Deceuninck-QuickStep rider stuck to Sagan’s wheel all day and beat him at both the intermediate sprint and on the finish line to pick up points.
Both riders made a decisive split with 30km to go, but as Kragh Andersen struck out for his second stage win of the Tour, their eyes were locked on one another.
“I had to completely forget about the stage,” Bennett said. “Everything then was for the jersey.”
Kragh Andersen picked up his first career Tour win on stage 14 last week but looked like an old hand as he timed his attack perfectly, surprising himself with how quickly he built a lead.
“For the last kilometre I was screaming, ‘Can you confirm one minute?’ because I didn’t believe it,” the Team Sunweb rider said.
“Two wins in the same Tour, I’m speechless. I could have never dreamed something better… this is memories for the rest of my life. I’m just super happy.”
Luke Rowe also enjoyed his day out as he got himself in a breakaway at the Tour for the first time in his career.
The 30-year-old is riding his sixth Tour but the first one that will not end with the yellow jersey for Ineos in their various guises, so instead he looked to build on Michal Kwiatkowski’s stage win on Thursday.
“We just wanted to keep that momentum going, being aggressive and on the front foot,” the Welshman said. “We’ve got nothing to lose…
“It was the first day in six years where the shackles were off, so it was good fun.”
If Friday was about green, attention returns to yellow on Saturday and the time trial on La Planche des Belles Filles where overall victory is set to be decided.
The 36.2km test will be defined by the six kilometre climb to the summit with decisions to be made on whether to swap from the time trial bike to a regular road machine midway through.
Pogacar, the precocious 21-year-old making his Tour debut, beat Roglic in the Slovenian national time trial back in February, taking nine seconds out of him on a course half the length of Saturday’s test, but overturning his deficit here would take a much bigger effort.
“I did the recon and if I’m on a good day it’s a course that suits me well,” Pogacar said. “It’s the same hard effort for everybody so tactics won’t come into it too much. If someone told me I’d be in this position before the Tour I would never have believed them.”
But of course it is Roglic who remains in control, and he will have the information in his ear throughout the time trial on how his rivals are fairing.
“So far, so good, I’m feeling good and looking forward to tomorrow,” the Jumbo-Visma rider said. “It’s all on me. So far the team did an amazing job. I have the jersey but we all worked for it, so tomorrow I will do my best.”
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