Ireland’s Sam Bennett came within a whisker of making it back-to-back stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana as Nicolas Roche retained the race leader’s red jersey.
Carrick-on-Suir sprinter Bennett had to settle for second after a photo finish declared 22-year old Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen the winner, with Fernando Gaviria (UAE Emirates) being awarded third after Max Walscheid (Team Sunweb) was relegated to last following an illegal manoeuvre.
Bennett came from very far back in a chaotic bunch sprint, charging his way towards the front as the finish line loomed, but even a desperate late lunge wasn’t enough for him. He did get some consolation by taking the green jersey as leader of the points classification, but disgust — and fear, were his overwhelming emotions after.
“This one hurts a lot,” Bennett offered. “It’s actually the first time I’ve ever lost a sprint in a lunge, or rather when it’s close I always get ahead. There have been times when there’s been a lunge and I’ve been half a bike off. But if it’s a dead heat I’ve always got that. But I couldn’t get there.
“I was starting to get overly aggressive, sometimes when you’re forcing it, it ends up being worse, and I was just forcing it. The flow was gone, there were too many hard accelerations, wrong side of the roundabout… the route book said it was blocked on one side and then one roundabout that was in the book wasn’t there on the road. So we did the recon and it wasn’t like that.
“But that was my mistake, I should have followed the other guys.”
Having won Monday’s stage into Alicante in a canter, the 28-year old was among the hottest of favourites yesterday but he has hinted of some potential physical problems that affected him.
“Now, it’s like on the climb, I had twitches of cramp and there shouldn’t be. We weren’t going hard. I have to figure it out. If I start climbing [like this] on the stages where I have to put the power down, I’m not going to survive this tour.”
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For countryman Roche, it was another assured display as he rolled home safely in the bunch in 46th place. He still leads Nairo Quintana (Movistar) by two seconds overall with another Colombian Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) a further six seconds back.
“I’m feeling okay,” said Roche. “It’s been a nice couple of days and the last time I had the jersey it was only for one day and I didn’t really get the chance to soak it in, but this time around with the flatter days and everything it’s been a lot easier and gave me the chance to enjoy the media time and fan time and it’s been more relaxing. Bearing in mind tomorrow is going to be quite difficult, not impossible, but almost impossible to keep the jersey,” he added.
Today’s stage is the first real mountain test of the race, and the sternest examination of Roche and his team so far.
The 170km stage takes the riders over the category 2 Puerto de Alcublas and the category 3 Alto Fuente de Rubielos along the way, but the GC men won’t come to the fore until the final category 1 haul to the finish, which has never been tackled before on the Vuelta.