Irishman Sam Bennett was left in tears after sprinting to a maiden stage win on the Tour de France on Tuesday after an Atlantic coast run between the islands of Oleron and Re.
The Deceuninck team rider’s stage 10 victory, on his Tour debut, ensured he reclaimed the sprint points green jersey, a similar shade to the rugby and football shirts of the Ireland national team.
It also followed a dramatic start to the day as Tour director Christian Prudhomme tested positive for Covid-19 while the entire peloton returned negative tests. There was a negative test result, however, for French Prime Minister Jean Castex, whom Prudhomme had sat alongside in his car for Saturday’s stage.
Wearing his Irish champion’s tunic Bennett narrowly edged Australia’s Caleb Ewan while peloton superstar Peter Sagan came third to cede the green jersey on a sunny day attended by more fans than on any previous day in the region famous for its huge, luscious oysters and other shellfish in the mud flats.
After the finish line on the chic Island of Re Ewan quickly rode alongside the winner to fist bump in a rare show of empathy between sprinters.
Surrounded by his teammates Bennett watched a replay before clenching his fist and cheering.
“It’s almost a relief,” said the 29-year-old who had four near misses before finally clinching this win after a frantic 168.5km-long stage 10 that featured 78 roundabouts.
Bennett said he could hardly think straight at the end of the stage.
“I threw my bike over the line to get the win but I was so excited I almost forgot to do it,” he said.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Bennett added at the finish line before bursting into tears and thanking his team and his family.
“I don’t want to be a cry baby,” said the powerfully built Belgian-born sprinter. “I want to bring this shirt home for Ireland, but Peter Sagan is a master of this game.”
Bennett now has stage wins on all three Grand Tours, his stage win here following stage victories on the Giro d’Italia (three) and the Vuelta a Espana (two).
He said his next goal would be a Tour de France final day win on the cobbled Parisian streets of the Champs-Elysees, before concentrating post-Tour on the Milan-San Remo race and the World Cycling Championships.
Relief all round
Jumbo’s Slovenian leader Primoz Roglic holds on to the overall lead with Colombia’s defending champion Egan Bernal in second place in the general classification, 21 seconds adrift.
Roglic will now go in to a third day in the leader’s jersey.
“If I’m honest I’m relieved I wasn’t positive and I’m still here, but I never really thought I was positive,” said Roglic about Monday’s Covid tests that were delivered Tuesday.
“We are all healthy (the riders) and it’s beautiful the race goes on. For the director I wish hm a speedy recovery.”
The former ski-jumper was making no predictions of keeping the jersey either with his narrow advantage over the champion coming largely from his time bonuses.
“I tried to take as many time bonuses as possible. We’ll see in Paris in whose favour these bonuses have been,” he said.
“This was a stressful stage and I thank my team for protecting me and keeping me out of the wind.
The spectacular run between the two Atlantic Islands, both of which are connected to the French mainland by road bridges, was largely free of the cross-winds that could have blown the race wide open.
But Bernal’s Ineos made two assaults from the front of the peloton when there was wind, on the narrow roads that were ram-packed with spectators most of the way.
The 23-year-old usually clean-cut Colombian appeared with a peculiar haircut on Tuesday.
“I’ll be honest about this,” Bernal said, a little abashed.
“I did it myself and I started in there and cut off too much. I had to keep going so, you can see the result,” he said having a good laugh at himself.
“It’s more aerodynamic like that!”