Vuelta a Espana 2019
Belgian Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) attacked on the final rise towards the finish but was reeled in by the in-form Bennett and had to settle for third place.
Frenchman Marc Sarreau (Groupama-FDJ) led a small group of chasers home five seconds in arrears after practically the whole field were held up by the large pile-up which occurred under the kilometre flag just as the road kicked up towards the home straight.
Slovenian sprinter Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) was one of the first riders to hit the deck at speed, with all the top five GC riders – including red jersey Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and the world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) – involved in the spill to varying degrees.
With fastmen Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) taken out of the equation, Bennett danced up the ramp and surged past Van der Sande to take one of the easiest wins of the season.
Bennett’s thirteenth win of 2019 came in what was only the third bunch sprint of the race – and the Irishman later admitted that he did not even know if he’d bagged the brace.
“I didn’t fully celebrate because I wasn’t sure if the breakaway had been caught,” the 28-year-old said, admitting he was not near the front of the pack when the day’s break of five riders had been reeled in with five kilometres remaining.
“The team put me in a fantastic place, getting me up near the front through the roundabouts after working fantastically for me all day,” he added.
Despite the crash, there was no change in the general classification because the incident occurred during the final 3km of the race. Roglic still leads Valverde by 2’25” and compatriot Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) by 3’01” going into two days in the mountains.
Saturday’s 188km stage took the riders along the dramatic Cantabrian coast ahead of a finish in the Asturian capital of Oviedo, the site of famous wins from the likes of ‘Lucho’ Herrera, Miguel Indurain and Robert Millar.
A break of six riders skipped clear from the gun to open up a gap which hovered around the 1’45” mark as the race covered 42.1km in the first hour of racing.
Silvan Dillier (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Luka Pibernik (Bahrain-Merida), Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal), Salvatore Puccio (Team Ineos), Diego Rubio (Burgos-BH) and Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) were the men in a move which was never given too much leeway from the pack.
This was hardly surprising: the only two previous sprints in the race were back in Stages 3 and 4, won by Bennett and Jakobsen respectively. With back-to-back stages in the mountains on the horizon, followed by the second rest day, there was no way the teams of the sprinters were going to let this opportunity go.
And so it proved, with the gap never drifting far above the two-minute mark while Bennett’s Bora-Hansgrohe, Jakobsen’s Deceuninck-QuickStep, Gaviria’s UAE Team Emirates and Mezgec’s Mitchelton-Scott all combining well on the front of the pack, receiving sporadic help from Edvald Boasson-Hagen’s Dimension Data and the Trek-Segafredo team of John Degenkolb and Edward Theuns.
Rossetto was the first to throw in the towel from the break, the Frenchman stopping for a call of nature before sitting up to be reabsorbed by the pack with around 60km remaining.
Spaniard Rubio led the remaining escapees through the intermediate sprint in Gijon before Belgian debutant Vanhoucke led the move over the summit of the only categorised climb, the gentle Cat.3 Alto La Madera, with 25km remaining.
A rise in tempo back caused a split in the peloton with the likes of polka dot jersey Angel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) and Pierre Latour (Ag2R-La Mondiale) among those caught out.
QuickStep led the chase entering Oviedo, ensuring that the break were swept up with less than five kilometres to go. A small chicane ahead of the steady uphill rise stretched things out with 2km remaining before that large crash inside the flamme rouge ended the chances of most of the top-tier sprinters.
It caused a scare for some of the big race favourites, too, with Spanish veteran Valverde going down on his side, Colombian teammate Quintana coming off his bike, and Slovenian sensations Roglic and Pogacar coming to a sudden standstill.
With the wind knocked out of the peloton’s sails, Van der Sande put in an opportunistic dig as the gradient crept. But Bennett kept his cool to reel in the Belgian, looking over his shoulder to check Richeze was incapable of catching him, before celebrating what he apparently did not know for sure was his second win of the race.
Long after Bennett’s muted celebrations were over, Mezgec was still receiving treatment on the roadside. The 31-year-old later abandoned the race.
Coming up: Stage 15 – Tineo to Santuario del Acebo
The fifth summit finish of the race comes at the end of a 146.5km stage that features four first-category climbs. Climbed twice, the Puerto del Acebo bookends the day, with the second and final ascent via the harder approach where the gradient consistently hits double-figures, with a maximum tilt of 15%.