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Having made it into a 70-rider peloton on a windy day in France, Bennett made it two in a row at Paris-Bourges by beating Porsev in a photo finish; Barbier completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti

ALEXANDER PORSEV

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BORA-HANSGROHE

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PARIS-BOURGES

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RUDY BARBIER

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SAM BENNETT

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06.10.2016 @ 17:30 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) again confirmed his status as a dangerous outsider for both Paris-Tours and the World Championships when he defended his title at the traditional warm-up race to the final big French classic at Paris-Bourges. On a windy day in France, the Irishman made it into a 70-rider peloton that sprinted for the win and finally beat Alexander Porsev (Katusha) in a photo finish. Rudy Barbier (Roubaix Lille Metropole) completed the podium.

 

A few weeks ago, Sam Bennett suddenly emerged as an outsider for the World Championships. After a crash-marred Tour de France and a difficult return to racing in Norway, he suddenly found his best form and when he beat Mark Cavendish twice at the Giro della Toscana, his name popped up as one to watch in Qatar later this month.

 

Unfortunately, the next few weeks went wrong for the in-form Bennett. A bout of bronchitis forced him to skip both the GP Beghelli and the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro and he suddenly risked to lose his great form so close to his biggest goal of the autumn.

 

Today Bennett finally returned to racing at Paris-Bourges – the traditional warm-up race for Sunday’s Paris-Tours – and he even lined up as the defending champion following last year’s great sprint win. With his than ideal preparation, he was more of an outsider than a real favourite in a race where Nacer Bouhanni was widely regarded as the man to beat.

 

However, Bennett proved that he is back on track for the big race in Qatar as he made two in a row on what turned out to be a windy day. Only 70 riders made it to the finish with the best and here Bennett managed to beat Alexander Porsev in a photo finish.

 

The 66th edition of Paris-Bourges started in Gien and ended in Bourges after 193.7km of racing. The riders travelled south along mainly flat roads. At the midpoint, the terrain got a bit hillier as the rider tackled the Cote de Jars, Graveron and Cote de la Chapelotte climbs at the 101.8km, 127.5km and 153.2km marks respectively. The final 40km were almost completely flat and led to an uncomplicated finish where only a few sweeping bends challenged the riders in the finale.

 

The riders had sunny and windy conditions when they gathered for the start. Surprisingly, the early break was established almost as soon as the flag was dropped. Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen), Ivan Centrone (Differdange) and Rasmus Byrel Iversen (Giant Scatto) attacked after a few minutes and immediately got a big advantage. Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r) took off in pursuit and when the four leaders realized that they had gone clear, they waited for the Frenchman.

 

After six kilometres of racing, the front quintet had an advantage of 2.30 and unsurprisingly, Nacer Bouhanni’s Cofidis team hit the front of the peloton to keep the situation under the control. When Centrone beat Helven and Gesbert in the first intermediate sprint, the leaders were still only 3.25 ahead and afte the first hour during which 41.9km were covered, Cofidis had already reduced it to 2.50.

 

Centrone beat Gesbert and Helven in the second sprint before the group pushed their advantage out to 3.35. At the same time, they slowed down a bit to save some energy and so they only covered 37.5km during the second hour.

 

Cofidis suddenly accelerated hard and reduced the gap to 1.55 in the feed zone. However, things soon calmed down again and when Centrone beat Jauregui and Helven in the first KOM sprint with 91km to go, the escapees were again 3.25.

 

Direct Energie now started to work with the Cofidis team and together they had reduced the gap to 2.25 at the end of the third hour during which 37.9km had been covered. FDJ also came to the fore and when the front group hit the second climb, they had lost more time as they were now only 1.50 ahead. Centrone beat Jauregui and Gesbert in the KOM sprint.

 

The harder terrain took its toll in both the front group and the peloton. Iversen and Helven both lost contact and a little later Centrone also had to let Jauregui and Gesbert go. In the peloton, sprinter Fabio Chinello (D’Amico) and Wayne Stijns (Differdange) were the first to get dropped and soon many riders had been distanced.

 

Centrone fought hard to get back to the front, staying just 15 seconds behind the leaders for a while, as the peloton was now just 1.35 behind the leaders.  At the same time, the attacking started and Quentin Pacher (Delko) and Jeremy Leveau (Roubaix) took off. They caught Centrone but the trio was soon brought back.

 

The fast pace suddenly split the peloton in two equally big groups that were separated by just 30 seconds, with riders like Lorrenzo Manzin (FDJ) and the Fortuneo pair of Yauheni Hutarovich and Armindo Fonseca caught out in the second group. When they hit the final climb, the first peloton was just 1.10 behind the two leaders.

 

Jauregui beat Gesbert in the final KOM sprint while Centrone had enough left to cross the line in third. Cofidis was in full control in the peloton and had reduced the gap to just 30 seconds when they hit the final 30km.

 

Gesbert and Jauregui did their best to keep the 70-rider peloton at bay but they slowly lost time. With 20km to go, they were only 20 seconds ahead and four kilometres later it was all over for the two French attackers.

 

Cofidis remained in the lead and set a fast pace as they headed towards Bourges. With 5k to go, Bora-Argon 18 took over, riding at speeds of more than 55km/h when they hit the city. However, they lost the battle to Cofidis that hit the front with less than 2km to go to try to set Bouhanni up for the win. In the end, their effort was in vain as Bennett beat Porsev in a photo finish, with Rudy Barbier completing the podium.

 

With Paris-Bourges done and dusted, the attention moves to the final big classic of the 2016 season at Sunday’s Paris-Tours.

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