Sam Bennett took victory on the Champs-Élysées after securing the green jersey on the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris as Tadej Pogacar rolled home in yellow to cap a remarkable closing weekend.
Bennett beat world champion Mads Pedersen in a sprint finish to take his second stage win of the Tour, having already wrapped up the points classification at the intermediate sprint of the 122km stage from Mantes-la-Jolie.
It made Bennett the first Irishman to win a major jersey at one of the three Grand Tours since his fellow Carrick-on-Suit man Sean Kelly won green at the Tour for the fourth and final time in 1989.
Bennett launched his sprint early and briefly looked like he might be overhauled by the hard-chasing Pedersen, but he would not be denied in the race all sprinters want to win the most.
💚🏆CHAPEAU SAM 🏆💚— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) September 20, 2020
Bród an domhain orainn as an éacht spórt seo bainte amach ag @Sammmy_Be 🇮🇪
Amazing achievement for Sam Bennett - Final Stage of #TDF2020 and the Green Jersey! pic.twitter.com/5AIiuW9iOS
“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” Bennett said. “The green jersey and the Champs-Élysées, the world championships of sprinting. I never thought I’d be able to win this stage and to do it in green is so special.
“And to do it too with my dream team, Deceuninck-QuickStep – the way the boys rode all day was fantastic. It’s just so amazing the feeling, I can’t thank everyone enough.”
Peter Sagan took third place ahead of Alexander Kristoff and Elia Viviani.
Green was the only classification left to be determined after Pogacar’s incredible ride in Saturday’s time trial on La Planche des Belles Filles saw the Slovenian secure the yellow jersey as well as the King of the Mountains’ polka dots and the best young rider’s white on his Tour debut.
The 29-year-old Bennett had come to his third career Tour focused purely on stage wins, desperate to capitalise on the strength of the Deceuninck-QuickStep squad he joined this winter after finding his path at Bora-Hansgrohe blocked by Sagan.
🏆Sam faoi agallamh i ndiaidh an bua 🏆— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) September 20, 2020
"I never thought I'd ever be able to win this Stage - and do do it in Green is so special" 💚
Sam shares his post-win thoughts! 🇮🇪#TDF2020 pic.twitter.com/6DpM7atafJ
He got the victory he craved on the Ile de Re on stage 10 but after Sagan was relegated from the sprint a day later, Bennett found himself in an unexpected battle for green with his old team-mate, who had won the classification a record seven times since 2012.
The ensuing fight cost Bennett energy he might have saved for sprints, but he ultimately had enough for an emotional victory on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees.
“All the suffering in the mountains is so worth it now,” said Bennett. “All the years trying to come up, trying to make it…It took me so long to get here. I’m sorry if it’s coming across too much, I just want to enjoy it.”
Behind the sprint, Pogacar rolled home resplendent in yellow after his success 24 hours earlier lifted him above his friend and compatriot Primoz Roglic at the top of the general classification.
A day before his 22nd birthday, Pogacar is the youngest winner since a 19-year-old Henri Cornet won a very different looking event back in 1904.
“It’s unbelievable, crazy,” Pogacar said. “Even if I would have come second or last, it wouldn’t matter, it would still be nice to be here but this is just the top of the top, I cannot describe this feeling with words.
“Today was very special with my team-mates. Finally some time to talk with them on the bike and not just going full gas every day.
“I have a lot of respect for all the riders, every single one of them congratulated me today. I am really thankful. This sport is really amazing.”
Before the clink of champagne glasses in the Parisian suburbs, there was the promise of a rider-led show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter, albeit one that could easily have been missed.
Kevin Reza, the only black rider in the peloton and on home turf as the race passed through Versailles, lined up just behind the jersey wearers on the start line, but beyond the odd ‘No To Racism’ slogan scribbled across some of the riders’ face masks, there was no major gesture.