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Following a splendid lead-out from his teammates, Bennett took his first 2016 victory by beating Barbier and Feillu in the uphill sprint on the morning stage at the Criterium International; he is the first leader of the race

Photo: TNE/Stiehl








26.03.2016 @ 13:57 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) finally took his first win of the 2016 season by coming out on top in the traditional uphill sprint that kicked off the 85th Criterium International. Perfectly led out by his teammates, he held off Rudy Barbier (Roubaix) and Romain Feillu (Auber 93) to claim his first win since last year’s Paris-Bourges and move into the lead before the afternoon time trial.


The 2016 season has not been like Sam Bennett had hoped. After a stellar end to 2015, he was hoping to start the new year on a high like he did last year when he beat most of the sprint stars in the Tour of Qatar but until today it had been a frustrating run of near-misses.


Bennett was close to victory in Mallorca and rode strongly in Qatar. Unfortunately, his good form wasn’t reflected in the results and when he fell ill during Tirreno-Adriatico, he missed the chance to shine on the WorldTour scene.


However, Bennett has recovered in time for this weekend’s Criterium International where he lines up as the big sprint name. Hence, he was the natural favourite for the only sprint stage in the race and he lived up to the expectations by emerging as the fastest in the uphill dash to the line that always opens the short two-day race.


The 85th edition of the Criterium International kicked off with the usual short 90.5km morning stage around the city of Porto-Vecchio. After a flat run along the coast, the riders reached the southernmost point of Corsica and then turned around to head back along flat roads towards the finish. There was a small categorized climb with 17km to go and from there it was a flat run back to the line where an uphill sprint awaited the peloton.


It was a beautiful sunny day when 124 riders gathered in Porto-Vecchio for the start and they got the race off to a fast opening phase. There were lots of attacks until kilometre 15 when Pierre Latour (Ag2r), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Jeremy Leveau (Roubaix) escaped. This trio enjoyed a 1.20 advantage at km 22 but never got much of an advantage in such a short stage.


FDJ, Bora-Argon 18 and Armée de Terre took on the chasing duties and reduced the gap to 1.05 at the 27km mark. Again, however, the gap grew and reached a maximum 1.40 at km 35 on a fast day when the riders covered 43km during the first hour.

The peloton increased the pace and had reduced it to 50 seconds at the 45km mark. It was too early to catch the trio though. The intermediate sprint of the day set at Bocca Di A Testa (km 56.5) was then claimed by Lilian Calmejane ahead of Leveau and Latour while the pack remained 1.30 adrift.


That gap was down to 55 seconds with 25km to go and dropped to 45 seconds at the summit of the only climb of the day, the Côte de Sotta (km 73), where Leveau captured the most KOM points. The rider from team Roubaix Métropole Lille was then the first to struggle and would eventually be gobbled up by the hungry peloton, leaving Latour and Calmejane in the lead. Jerome Cousin (Cofidis) made a failed attempt to bridge across and got to within 20 seconds of the leaders before being swallowed up.

Despite the efforts of the Delko Marseille Provence and the FDJ squads, the front two continued their impressive run. They were 45 seconds ahead with 15km to go and still had 30 seconds at the 10km to go mark. It went out to 35 seconds with only 5km to go and was 25 seconds at the start of the final 3km.


It became a thrilling finale as the pair still held an advantage of 20 seconds with 2km to go and they passed the flamme rouge with a lead of 10 seconds They were finally caught with just under 500m to go.


After being trapped at the back of the pack because of a crash in the closing moments of the race, Sam Bennett was perfectly led out by his Bora-Argon 18 team mates and flew to victory, beating Rudy Barbier and Romain Feillu on the slightly uphill final straight. The Irishman was all smiles at the finish, claiming his first win of the season.

Winner of Paris-Bourges and a stage of the Tour of Qatar last year, the sprinter born in Belgium captures the first overall leader's yellow jersey and now leads Barbier by 2 seconds. It’s a colour that he'll be proudly wear this afternoon for the 7km individual time trial of this Criterium International. It’s a short, technical affair with a small climb to the finish and will be the scene of the first GC battle in the race.



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