The 144-kilometre sixth and final stage of the Presidential Tour of Turkey ended in an uphill battle where Theuns finally got the better of Bennett in a tricky, technical final kilometre after the Irish sprinter dove into the last corner with high-speed and crashed. Theuns avoided going down as well, recovered, and sprinted to the win.
"We had a good gap, and it was nice from Sam Bennett that he wanted to take a pull also,” said Theuns, after the stage.
“Then he passed in the last corner, inside, and I felt he was going really too fast. He crashed right in front of me, I had to brake full, get out of my pedal, get into my pedal again, but then I could go to (Matteo) Pelucchi's wheel and get the slipstream, and I had really a lot of power left in my legs."
After Greg Daniel (Trek-Segafredo) put in more than a day's worth of work to help control the four-man breakaway, the rest of the Trek-Segafredo team went to work to place Theuns into the top positions heading into the climb to the line.
Sensing an opportunity, Theuns jumped at the bottom with some 1500 metres to go, the steepest part of the climb, and opened a gap with Bennett and his Bora-hansgrohe teammate Matteo Pelucchi. The three continued to push the pace, with Bennett taking a generous pull before Pelucchi was able to come around to begin a final leadout.
Theuns grabbed Pelucchi's wheel with Bennett tucked in third place. Disaster struck for Bennett when he tried to sneak on the inside of Theuns through the corner with 300 metres remaining, taking an aggressive angle and high-speed into the apex and losing grip on the cobbled road. Theuns somehow evaded a falling Bennett and easily overtook Pelucchi in the final metres for the win.
"I expected the last climb to be a little bit harder," Theuns said. "The team did a super great job like they have done all week. They put me right at the front [ahead of the climb]. I had a talk with David Hunter (@Cyclingmole) on Twitter, and he said if you are a legend you go from the bottom," he laughed.
"So I was repeating this in my head the whole day, and I saw the moment when we turned on [to the climb] and (Diego) Ulissi was doubting, and I said 'okay, let's go full from the bottom.’”
Theuns and his Trek-Segafredo teammates have been unable to top Bennett all week, who had pocketed four wins ahead of the final stage today. But the frustration was only really felt in yesterday's stage five, explained Theuns:
"It was okay the whole week, I knew Bennett was faster in the sprint, but after yesterday when we made a mistake in the finale 200 metres, I was super, super disappointed. So actually, yesterday evening and this morning I wasn't the most pleasant guy to be with. But now this has changed, and I really have to thank the team a lot, and we can have a good party tonight."
It was Edward Theuns' final race with the American pinstriped team. He joined Trek-Segafredo two years ago, his first time racing in the WorldTour, and he gave the team the best possible farewell today; class act from a classy rider.
"I am super happy. It's my last day riding for Trek-Segafredo, and I am really thankful of the opportunities I have gotten from the team," said Theuns. "I had a hard period after my crash in the Tour (de France) last year, and they always supported me, and I came back, I think, to a higher level. I think there's no better way to thank the team than with a victory like this.
Theuns’ victory on the final stage, and the gap to Bennett, was enough to see Theuns win the points classification for the best sprinter as well.
Diego Ulissi (UAE Emirates) won the general classification maintaining a 12-second lead over Jesper Hansen (Astana). Fausto Masnada (Androni-Sidermec-Bottecchia) claimed third overall, 24 seconds behind Ulissi.