Tour de France (st. 19)
Italian from Movistar Team fights until very end for Blues' maiden stage win in the 2017 'Grande Boucle' at Salon-de-Provence; Boasson Hagen (DDD) beats elite 20-rider field with strong late attack
At the longest stage of the 2017 Tour de France -222.5km between Embrun and Salon-de-Provence, down from the Alpes to Provence- and at the hardest breakaway to beat, not because of the number of rivals but for their enormous quality, Daniele Bennati (Movistar Team) was very close to reward his team-mates after so many sacrifices without any prize. The Italian finished in 4th place behind solo winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (DDD) after making part of a world-class, 20-rider group, following attempts by Sütterlin, Erviti, Betancur or even Nairo Quintana. The man from Arezzo tried then to profit from his experience, strength and skills to bring the victory home.
An acceleratino by Keukeleire (ORS) into the group with 15km remaining reduced the field to only nine contenders, including 'Benna', Hagen, Bakelants (ALM), Albasini (ORS), Arndt (SUN), Chavanel (DEN), Gesbert (TFO) and De Gendt (LTS). The inevitable, subsequent attacks, started with six kilometers remaining, were always responded into third or fourth place inside the group by Daniele, who even dared to go all-in by himself, without waiting for the sprint, with 2.5km to go. However, shortly after, an attack by Hagen, taking advantage from the final roundabout into Salon, allowed him opening a gap impossible to bridge back by Bennati -4th, +17"- and his rivals.
The Tour is now 125 kilometers away from closing its 104th edition. The GC will be decided at Saturday's 22.5km ITT showdown in Marseille -which includes a tough climb, Nôtre-Dame de la Garde (1200m at 9.5% gradient), with Nairo Quintana off the ramp in 12th place overall. A day later, Sunday, the riders will finally cover the laps around Paris's Champs-Élysées.
Daniele Bennati: "The first victory of the day was simply getting into the early break, because it was difficult in itself, and then beating the rest of the field was the other one. There were so many talented riders, and in such a finish, it's sort of a lottery to snatch the right move and win. I tried to escape after the penultimate roundabout, but wasn't able to open a gap, and then at the final one I took the left side, whereas the right-hand one was the shortest. Boasson Hagen had a 20, 30-meter advantage at the exit and it was impossible for me to bridge back.
"I'm annoyed, and it's normal. I wanted so hard to dedicate a victory to the whole team, after all bad luck we've gone through in this Tour; also to Alejandro Valverde, whom I wish all the best with his recovery; and my son Francesco, who celebrated his birthday on Thursday. After Alejandro's crash we tried to carry on and seek for the GC win with Nairo, yet he couldn't recover well for the Tour after the efforts in the Giro. Refocusing our goals afterwards and go for stage wins when you see your top contender hasn't got everything he'd like to is always hard. We tried, though; I did jump with 2km left last Tuesday after we made the front group into the crosswinds, but was caught. We didn't have what was needed, but did everything we could."