“Today was a test to see how the legs were,” said Sam Bennett, after the 166-km ride around Saint-Cyr-l’Ecole in the opening stage of the Paris-Nice week-long race. And like much of last year, it turns out his sprinting legs are right up near the best in the world.
Bennett, who won two stages in last year’s Tour de France, produced a perfectly-executed sprint in the final stretch to beat French champion Arnaud Demare and former world champion Mads Pedersen of Denmark.
“It’s hard all day in the European races,” said the delighted Carrick-on-Suir man afterwards. “We couldn’t come to the front until two kilometres to go, we started to panic but the whole team did a great job. I was pretty happy with the kick I had, I felt pretty strong.”
Bennett’s third victory of the season also gives him the yellow jersey of race leader in a race long-associated with Irish riders.
Both Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly have won the race overall with Kelly claiming victory a record seven times.