Caleb Ewan snatched his second sprint victory of this year’s Tour de France as Sam Bennett’s hold on the points leader’s green jersey was strengthened by a penalty for Peter Sagan after a scrappy end to stage 11 in Poitiers.
Bennett could not repeat what was his first career Tour stage win 24 hours earlier in Ile de Re as he swapped places on the podium with Ewan, his third place on the road being upgraded to second after Sagan was punished for barging his way past Jumbo-Visma’s Wout Van Aert, who was promoted to third.
It was a hectic end to the 167.5km stage from Chatelaillon-Plage, which saw no change in the general classiciation as Primoz Roglic continues to lead by 21 seconds from defending champion Egan Bernal.
Van Aert lit it up early before he was shoved out of the way by the hard-charging Sagan, while Ewan had the speed to round Bennett before the line.
“For me, it’s not allowed to do that,” Van Aert said of Sagan’s aggression. “It was already dangerous enough and I was really surprised and shocked at the moment I felt something. I was already at maximum effort so I was really scared.
“I was shocked, surprised and angry so I don’t really use nice words towards him. Afterwards I tried to say to him that I didn’t like what he was doing, but the only thing that came back was other strong words.”
Sagan’s team accepted the penalty.
“I had the speed and, in the sprint, I tried to go on the right side,” the former world champion said.
“I passed one rider easily, but then it got really narrow. I had to move to avoid the barriers and as a result, I got relegated. This cost me a lot of points but I still have not abandoned the fight for the green jersey.”
The photo finish for second between Sagan and Bennett became irrelevant once commissaries had studied the footage again, relegating the former to 85th on the day.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Bennett said. “It was just so hectic. (The team) did a fantastic job of looking after me, it’s just in the finale it was hard to switch from following a team-mate to going it alone, and I found myself too far forward too early.
“It was a bit late to drift back, it was just a complete mess. I tried to limit my losses and get the best result I could.”
The Deceuninck-QuickStep rider was hoping to repeat the victory of fellow Irishman Sean Kelly the last time a Tour stage finished in Poitiers, but instead saw his chances of repeating one of Kelly’s four overall victories in the points classification increase considerably.
If Sagan’s second place had stood Bennett’s lead would have been down to 15 points, but with the penalty applied it grew to 68, 243 to 175.
Sagan has won the points classification every year since 2012 with the exception of 2017, when his stage four crash with Mark Cavendish saw him disqualified entirely and sent home.
Now another penalty could cost him an eighth crown in the competition, though the race is heading back to the high ground where he has made a speciality of getting into breaks and scooping up significant points in the intermediate sprints – many of which come before the biggest climbs.
“I don’t know how long I can hold this green jersey,” said Bennett. “The race is going to get harder and harder, but we will see how it goes.”
Victory for the Lotto-Soudal’s Ewan followed his success on stage three to Sisteron.
“It was very, very hectic,” Ewan said. “I knew from the first stage that I won just to stay calm and wait for the right gap to open. I just had a real desire to win today after yesterday and I’m happy to repay my team-mates with the win.”
The road will now begin to ramp up again. Thursday’s rolling stage 12 to Sarran Correze could be one for a breakaway before the mountains beckon again.
The sprinters, however, will be feeding on scraps with limited opportunities until the one they all want the most on the Champs-Elysees.
“I’m super happy with two stage wins,” Ewan said. “But now I want the third one in Paris.”