Sam Bennett keeps dominating the sprints in the 2019 BinckBank Tour. Despite fierce opposition from Dylan Groenewegen the Irish sprinter took a photo finish win in Aalter, his third stage win in a row. It's the first straight hat-trick in the history of the Belgian-Dutch stage race.
The third stage with a start and finish in Aalter was a tribute to the late Bjorg Lambrecht. After a solemn speech by Aalter mayor Pieter De Crem and an impressive minute of silence the Lotto-Soudal riders led the peloton for a 166km stage to and from Aalter. After 33km the peloton passed through Lambrecht's village of Knesselare. Race director Rob Discart and mayor De Crem handed over flowers to the family members and members of the fan club of Bjorg Lambrecht at the church of Knesselare, which had been the site of his funeral on Tuesday.
Laurens De Vreese, Jan-Willem Van Schip and Aaron Verwilst formed the early breakaway and received a lot of applause as they passed the church in Knesselare. Viacheslav Kuznetsov was initially part of that leading group, but he dropped back with bike problems. Either way, the leaders never got much more that two minutes. Lotto-Soudal nearly closed the shrinking gap on the cobbles of the Neringenstraat. With 70km to go the breakaway was history.
That opened the floodgates for more attacks. Baptiste Planckaert broke clear to get his fifth intermediate sprint win and cement his lead in the Super 8 Checkpoint classification. However, his valiant attempt to escape with team-mate Lionel Taminiaux and an industrious Julien Duval didn't succeed.
Numerous riders tried to escape again and set up a second breakaway of the day. Even leader Sam Bennett and sprinters Alvaro Hodeg and Jasper Philipsen got involved. Stijn Steels, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Harry Tanfield ended up getting away. The three fought for a maximum lead of only 50 seconds before getting reeled back in for a third straight bunch sprint. They were caught with four kilometres to go.
In the bunch sprint, which was derailed by a crash ahead of the final corner, Philipsen started sprinting with 300 metres to go. Groenewegen quickly caught and passed the Belgian, but with a phenomenal final jump Sam Bennett managed to throw his bike alongside the Dutchman. A photo finish had to point out the winner and revealed Bennett just managed to get ahead of Groenewegen. It's a straight hat-trick for the Bora-Hansgrohe rider, who also won the first two stages. It's the first time in BinckBank Tour history that a rider managed to take three stage wins in a row. The Irish champion also reinforced his lead in the general classification.