It was a tale of three sprinters. Sam Bennett, Irish Champion, of Bora-Hansgrohe; Fabio Jakobsen, Dutch national champion riding for Deceunicnk Quick Step; and Fernando Gaviria, Team UAE’s highly paid fast-finishing Colombian.
With a sub-plot, of course, provided by the terrain of Spain.
The final thirty kilometres were pocked with a couple of testy climbs. When Thomas de Gendt killed the day’s break by clipping off the front of the race (just for kicks, presumably) that became the cue for Bennett to put his teammates to work.
Jakobsen was hanging on a touch. Gaviria was dangling off the back of the field, struggling with the climbs. That Bora Hangrohe took their chance to up the pace told us everything about the legs of Sam Bennett.
(By the way, are we still calling him Il Cavallino Rampante?)
Life, for Gaviria, was about to get cruel.
Finding himself among the team cars behind the main field, his task was to pick his way through, pinching a draft here and a tow there, latch back on, and grab some brief respite before contesting the finish.
But cycling is a brutal game.
Not only were Bora (and others, now) driving the pace, each team car belonging to a rival, seeing Gaviria in their rear-view, eased off the gas and left a gap to the car in front.
A big gap.
A ‘whoops…now how did that happen!?’ kind of a gap.
A gap requiring Gaviria to batter across without motorised assistance.
The standard conga line of team cars became a stop start staccato, designed to make Fernando Gaviria’s life as difficult as possible. Cruel, mental and physical punishment. Gamesmanship. The UAE man, as the gap to the field stretched towards a minute, threw the towel in.
Jakobsen, faring better, was still under the cosh somewhat. Those precious fast-twitch muscles in his thighs being depleted in the service of maintaining contact with the head of the race.
Still twenty kilometres to go.
Bennett and his team, meanwhile, in control up front.Embed from Getty Images
At the risk of perpetuating a number of stereotypes, the slightly cooler weather of stage three (early twenties rather than late thirties) surely in the favour of this red headed Irishman.
As the race hit the finish town of Alicante, following a near constant descent of twenty kilometres, the pace was scorching. Several dozen (approximately) roundabouts and underpasses negotiated, the bunch swept into a wide, straight finish.
Shane Archibald, mullet headed, positioned Bennett with perfection and, finding clear air in the final five hundred metres the Bora man launched himself so impressively, and with such decisiveness, he’d won by more than a bike length before Edward Teuns and Luca Mezgec knew what had hit them.
Jakobsen, inconsequential, finished seventh.
Gaviria miles back.
And so our Irish stage winner joins our Irish race leader (Roche) on the podium. While we’re dishing out the stereotypes lets go ahead and suggest that Guinness will be quaffed tonight on the Costa Blanca.