Sam Bennett’s search for a long-overdue win continued on stage three of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Tuesday, the Irishman finishing second into Le Coteau behind the race leader Christophe Laporte (Jumbo Visma) but later being relegated.
Bennett had a perfect leadout from his Bora-hansgrohe squad, including Irish teammate Ryan Mullen. Danny Van Poppel led Bennett into the final 200 metres, with the latter then hitting the front when he launched his sprint at 150 metres to go.
However stage one winner Laporte stormed through on his left and grabbed the stage victory, with Bennett finishing just over half a wheel behind.
The Carrick-on-Suir rider was frustrated by the outcome, particularly as has taken just one win this season. This occurred on his very first day of racing, back in January. Since then he has gone close on numerous occasions, with Tuesday’s result becoming – temporarily – his fifth runner-up slot of the season. He has also been third twice.
That pressure on Bennett showed in the final sprint, with the 32 year-old beginning his sprint towards the centre of the road but then moving right against the barriers, effectively closing the door on Matevž Govekar (Bahrain-Victorious) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco AlUla). The latter raised his hand in protest.
The result initially stood but some time after the finish, the race jury ruled that Bennett had broken the rules in deviating from his line. He was relegated to the back of the bunch, as was Groenewegen for also deviating from his line.
Bennett had dug very deep on Monday’s undulating stage to be there at the finish, and said prior to his relegation that this effort affected him on Tuesday. He thanked his team for what he said was a very good effort.
“It was a lot nicer than the last two days, but you could still feel the last two days in the legs,” he explained. “There was a bit of a hard moment in the middle of the race when they attack for the KOM [King of the Mountains points], but it all came back together and then it was a relatively straightforward day.
“The boys did a fantastic job in the final. We said where we wanted to come from and when we wanted to go. But unfortunately I felt yesterday’s effort in the legs still. When I had to go, I just didn’t really have anything today. It is a little bit unfortunate, but I have to thank the guys. They did an amazing job.”
His team subsequently responded to the loss of Bennett’s second place. “For sure Sam’s relegation is a pity, but of course we accept the jury’s decision,” said sports director Bernhard Eisel.
Laporte holds the race lead heading into Wednesday’s time trial, a 31.1 kilometre individual test to Belmont de la Loire. His teammate Jonas Vingegaard is one of the top favourites for the stage, and is keen to underline strong form prior to the defence of his Tour de France title next month.
Bennett is also keen to show his condition, not least because Bora-hansgrohe passed him over for Tour selection last year. He won two stages plus the points classification in 2020, the last time he competed in the Tour, and is trying hard to get back to that same level of form. His change of direction in Tuesday’s sprint is likely a reflection of the pressure he is under.
He will have one more possible chance for a Dauphiné stage win on Thursday when the peloton races to Salins les Bains. However a category two climb close to the finish means a sprint is far from guaranteed. The following three stages are all mountainous.