This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) has the uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time and the Australian demonstrated that gift once again on stage 3 of the Tour de France, as he denied no less a figure than Peter Sagan victory in a tense sprint in Calvi, while Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard) retained the yellow jersey.
At the end of a rugged day of racing along Corsica’s sinuous coastal roads, and with the peloton shorn of its purest sprinters, it seemed inevitable that Sagan would get off the mark at this year’s Tour but instead it was Gerrans who claimed the win by a matter of inches, thanks in no small part to an expert lead-out from Daryl Impey.
Gerrans came off Impey’s wheel inside the final 200 metres and succeeded in holding off the closing Sagan when they both hurled themselves at the finish line, while José Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) was a distant third ahead of Mikal Kwiatowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC).
“I could see Sagan under my shoulder and then I could sense him coming up beside me, so I just threw for the line. It must have been close because neither of us knew who had won,” said Gerrans, who claimed Orica-GreenEdge’s first ever Tour de France stage win. “Normally I would lead Daryl out, but we reversed roles today. I had pin-pointed this stage and he did a great job.”
Sagan looked to put a positive spin on his afternoon by pointing to the fact that he has now taken possession of the green jersey, but his expression when a television crew offered to show him a replay of the sprint in the mixed zone afterwards betrayed his disappointment.
And well might he grimace. With just Alessandro De Marchi for company in the leading group, Sagan managed to muscle his way to the front inside the final kilometre but he found himself sitting in second wheel far too early, with more than 500 metres still to race. Although Sagan was able to slip onto the back of the Orica-GreenEdge train on the final right-hand bend, he couldn’t summon up the speed to overhaul Gerrans.
“I don’t want to watch it, I’m annoyed at how I lost,” Sagan said. “But Gerrans is a good rider and quick finisher, and I’m still happy to have the green jersey on my shoulders already. The Tour is only starting.”
Jan Bakelandts (RadioShack-Leopard) kept the yellow jersey
RadioShack-Leopard were prominent at the head of the peloton for much of the day and their efforts in controlling the early break’s lead helped Jan Bakelants retain yellow for another day. The Belgian endured a brief scare when Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked on the final climb, the Col de Marsolino, but with 13 rapid kilometres still to race, he was confident that the Frenchman and his companions would be reeled in.
“The team was always in control and we didn’t really panic even though the last climb was harder than it seemed on the road book. I knew Rolland would get a gap but I knew it was a long way to the finish too,” said Bakelants, who holds a lead of just one second over Julien Simon (Sojasun) and 70 other riders ahead of Tuesday’s team time trial in Nice.
The main overall contenders all broke even and finished together in the leading group of 90 riders which formed when the peloton fragmented on the deceptively tough final climb. Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) looked more comfortable than he has done for quite some time, while Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans were both well marshalled by their Saxo-Tinkoff and BMC teams.
After the previous day’s cameo in the final drop to Ajaccio, there were no fireworks from Chris Froome or Sky on the Marsolino, and indeed the British outfit had just three riders in the front group when the dust settled after the final climb – Froome, Richie Porte and Edvald Boasson Hagen. “It got a bit complicated. We tried to put Chris and Richie in a good position but with the narrow roads it wasn’t easy and RadioShack were determined to control the race,” said Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal. In spite of sustaining a fracture to his pelvis on stage 1, Sky's Geraint Thomas remains in the race, and the Welshman battled gamely to finish in a sizeable group 9 minutes down on Gerrans.
Clarke leads the way for Gerrans
A tough third stage
As Gerrans explained afterwards, he entered stage 3 with high hopes, and Simon Clarke was on sentry duty on his behalf when Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) sparked the échapée matinale immediately after the flag was dropped in Ajaccio. Westra and Clarke were joined by Sébastien Minard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alexis Vuillermoz (Sojasun) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and the quintet quickly established a lead of some three minutes over the main peloton on a day of pleasant sunshine in Corsica.
On such twisting roads, and with scarcely a metre of flat on the parcours, the peloton was loathe to let the escapees gain too much of an advantage, however. RadioShack-Leopard was careful to keep tabs on the margin for much of the afternoon and an injection of pace by Sky with 60km to go brought their lead down to around a minute.
In the meantime, Simon Clarke had hoovered up the mountains points on the Col de San Bastiano, Col de San Martino and Côte de Porto, and he looked to claim the polka dot jersey for himself when he attacked in the company of Minard with a shade over 20 kilometres to race.
Clarke would prove to be the final survivor of the early break, but his stout resistance ground to a halt one kilometre from the top of the Marsolino, when Pierre Rolland – bedecked from head to toe in polka dots – jumped from the dwindling peloton to claim the mountains points on offer at the summit.
Rolland continued his effort over the top – “I had a lead when I looked behind, so I said I’d have a go,” he shrugged afterwards – and he was joined on the rapid descent by Lars-Peter Nordhaug (Belkin), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and a hugely impressive Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
The Rolland-Chavanel alliance never succeeded in stretching its lead beyond ten seconds, however, and when the move petered out with 3 kilometres to go, the stage seemed set for Sagan, only for Gerrans to steal the show.