With Sagan gaining no points despite crossing the first behind stage winner Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Bennett profiting from been shuffled up to second-place on the stage, the Deceuninck-Quick-Step sprinter now leads Sagan by 68 points. Bennett took the news with mixed emotions Wednesday.
“Today this helps me, but what’s next? I want to win the jersey fair, on the road, fighting, not because someone gets points deducted,” he said after the stage.
Although Bennett spoke before having the chance to review footage of the frenetic sprint, he leaned toward defending his Slovak green jersey foe.
“A big part of sprinting is rubbing shoulders,” Bennett said. “I have to see it, I don’t know what happened, but when did sprinting get soft?”
With the race now moving toward the hills of the Massif Central and then the high peaks of the Alps, the opportunities for sprints are rapidly diminishing, with the Champs-Élysées now the only nailed-on fast finish.
On paper, stage 12 Thursday and stage 19 next week both offer the opportunity for a bunch kick, but with rolling hills beforehand and increasingly-tired legs in the bunch, breakaways may go clear and scoop up the points at the finish line. With that, the battle for intermediate sprints early in every stage may become more crucial than ever.
“This cost me a lot of points, but I still have not abandoned the fight for the green jersey,” Sagan said of his relegation. “We are half-way through the Tour de France. There are some opportunities still to take the green jersey back.”
Although Sagan has his work cut out in bridging his 68-point deficit, Bennett isn’t ruling him out just yet, warning, “I feel like he’s getting stronger.”
Should Bennett ride home to green in Paris, he would be the first since Michael Matthews in 2017 to wrestle the jersey away from the Slovakian star. Matthews also took the jersey after Sagan was penalized – in this case, booted from the race altogether after an incident with Mark Cavendish in just the fourth stage of the race.
Bennett will be hoping for more of a battle than Matthews had to contest with.