Dan Martin stayed right in the hunt for a podium finish at the Tour de France over the weekend as crash victim Sam Bennett got some way “back on track” in the hunt for stage wins.
The latter might be last on general classification after a harrowing opening two weeks where injuries sustained on the opening day meant his biggest challenge was just making the time limit each day.
But on Saturday he showed that he’s getting back to the form that could yet see him push for a win before the race concludes in Paris on Sunday. He was 12th on the 14th stage won by Mark Cavendish, the Manxman riding for Dimension Data taking his Tour tally to 30 as he closes in on Eddy Merckx’s record of 34.
“To go back into a bunch sprint like that after crashing so often (over the years) and on the opening day was tough,” said Bennett.
“I think mentally it was really difficult; when I got one or two bumps I tipped the brakes and I lost all my speed and that cost me five or six places…
“Confidence stopped me from getting a result,” he continued. “It’ll be easy for people to say I need to be more aggressive but honestly, as nervous as I am, I think I did well to be back and I think it’s a stepping stone; first to be back in the bunch sprint and then to have the confidence to push and shove a little bit more.”
He was never likely to contend on yesterday’s stage which was a hellishly hard 160-kilometre journey from Bourg en Bresse to Culoz where race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) successfully defended the yellow jersey.
Froome rarely seemed in trouble during the mountainous stage, with only Astana trying to shake up the front group of GC contenders which contained Irishman Martin. Astana’s surge and then a late attack by Roman Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) only served to distance US rider Tejay van Garderen (BMC), who lost 1:28 and slipped to eighth overall at 4:47, though the American is still 16 seconds ahead of Martin in ninth, who is 5:03 down on Froome.
Colombia’s Jarlinson Pantano won the stage when he out-sprinted Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) to take victory for his IAM Cycling team, which is disbanding at the end of the season. Pantano and Majka were part of the original day’s breakaway, with the latter cresting the final climb of the day with less than 15km remaining but was unable to hold off the dare-devil descending Colombian.
“It’s an incredible day for me. I came to the Tour de France thinking I’d try to win a stage but to do it is difficult to believe. I’d hoped to do it but this is incredible,” said the stage winner.
Today’s stage takes the riders on a 209-kilometre journey to Berne in Switzerland before tomorrow’s final rest day after which the riders head for the Alps and the final battles await to decide who, if anyone, can shake Froome.
Meanwhile, Charlie Meredith won the Scott Bicycles Junior Tour of Ireland after safeguarding the yellow jersey on yesterday’s final stage of the race.
The Giant Halo man came into the day three seconds clear of Robert O’Leary (Irish national team) in second.
And though the latter tried time and again to break away and take the time he needed to win overall, Meredith and his team proved too strong.
Gage Hecht (Hot Tubes) won the final stage from Alexis Roche (NRPT-Magnet.ie).
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