Australians picked up first, second and third in the uncharacteristically wet third stage of the TouPIC BY TOURDOWNUNDER Wet weather struck the Tour Down Under for the first time in the nine year history of the race but it did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the 40,000 fans or the international field that set a cracking pace to complete the third stage more than half an hour ahead of schedule. 110 riders lined up in Stirling for the 128 kilometre stretch from the Adelaide Hills to the Fluerieu Peninsula and the beachside suburb of Victor Harbor where 2003 Tour de France sprint champion, Baden Cooke, 28, (Unibet.com) left everyone in his wake to claim victory. Despite soggy conditions and, at times, driving rain, Cooke's finishing time of 2h37m55s gave the lead group an average speed for the day of 48.6 km/h. South Australian mountain bike specialist Chris Jongewaard (UniSA Australia) was second, five seconds behind and Tasmanian 20 year old Matt Goss (Team CSC) made it an Australian trifecta sprinting home 19 seconds after Cooke in third place. "It's always good to kick off with a win, we've gone into the ProTour (Unibet.com awarded ProTour status for 2007) this year and we want to make a big impact, that's the best way to start," said Cooke who won two stages of the Tour Down Under in 2003 and another one in 2004. "I rang my parents this morning and said keep an eye out, I'm going to have a crack. "I'd had two days looking after my legs in the peloton, I knew my legs were good," he said. "Until 40km to go I wasn't really touching the pedals - I felt really good and Jeremy Hunt (his team mate) did a huge amount of work in the final to pull it altogether for me and I'm just glad I could put it together for him." Cooke arrived at the finish drenched but says the rain motivated him to get to the finish as quickly as possible. "Some of the other nice, sunny days it's nice sitting in the back group, cruising along, having a chat," said Cooke. "Today, it's not nice either in the front or back, so I thought I may as well get out there and get amongst it and at least I'd get home and dry a bit earlier." Another day, another break Cooke was one of 19 riders who split from the field in the first ten kilometres of the stage and by the 15 kilometre mark had a one minute lead on the bunch. All in the group were more than 26 minutes off the time of overnight leader Karl Menzies (UniSA Australia) except Belarus rider Viktor Rapinski (Navigators Insurance) who was sitting just over 16min off the race lead. The 19 leaders powered through the twisting, undulating course and at the first 'SA Lotteries' intermediate sprint at Echunga (15.5km) Rapinski claimed the points and time bonus ahead of Josep Jufre Pou (ESP - Predictor Lotto) and Australian Matt Goss (CSC). By the time the leading group reached the second intermediate sprint at Goolwa (69.8km) they had a handy advantage of close to five minutes on the peloton and again it was Rapinski who claimed the sprint with Frenchman Christophe Laurent (Credit Agricole) second and New Zealand's Scott Lyttle third. The next target for the leaders was the 'A Brilliant Blend' King of the Mountain at Kerby Hill near Port Elliot and Italian Giampaolo Cheula (Barloworld) struck out to win the points over the summit with current King of the Mountain leader, Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R Prevoyance) picking up the second placed points to protect his sprint jersey. Pou was third. The leaders regrouped shortly after the climb but then the attacks started and several riders struggled to stay in touch. Closing in on the finish Belgian Wim Vansevenant (Predictor-Lotto) tried to escape but his effort was in vain and Cooke countered with Jongewaard in tow. "'Jez' (Hunt) did a huge amount of work then I got away over the final climb with the UniSA guy (Jongewaard) and he'd been sitting on all day so I knew he was going to be fresh," explained Cooke. "He did most of the work in the final 'k' and I was happy to beat him easily in the sprint." Jongewaard had been sitting in the break to protect the overall lead of his team mate Karl Menzies and as a result was a passenger in the leading break for much of the day. "I mean, in the beginning I could understand it because they had the leader out on the road, but when it broke down to four or five guys, and they were still sitting on, I turned to the guy (Jongewaard) and said 'if you're going to go for the win, you'd better start coming through'", said Cooke. "He half-hearted came through and I ended up with him in the finish - then, as it turned out, he did most of the work in the finish so he sort-of made up for it." "Once the break was secure, I think he was looking for us to do our part," said Jongewaard whose team mate Mitchell Docker also joined the leading group at the start of the day. "He (Cooke) was the stronger man on the day, he's definitely a class bike rider...at the end of the day, what am I going (to do)? Play cat and dog with him and still lose the sprint and maybe even lose second place - so it was in my best interests to do a bit more work on the front and secure second. "Baden is definitely the sprinter out of us two, to match it up with him is almost impossible," said Jongewaard. The rest of the group crossed in dribs and drabs and the main field was led home by Robbie McEwen (AUS - Predictor Lotto) 14min10sec after Cooke had raised his arms in a a victory salute. Overall Karl Menzies (UniSA Australia) has held his one second lead over Swiss cyclist Martin Elmiger (AG2R Prevoyance) with Dane Lars Bak third at seven seconds and Victorian Matthew Lloyd (Predictor-Lotto) still in fourth place at 9 seconds. The two intermediate sprint wins today by Rapinski have put him in the SA Lotteries Sprint leader's jersey, Samuel Dumoulin retained the lead in the 'A Brilliant Blend' King of the Mountain classification and Victorian Simon Clarke (SouthAustralia.com-AIS) is still the leader of the 'Share the Road' Best Young Rider. SouthAustralia.com-AIS retained the lead in the Bartercard Teams Classification and Belgian Wim Vansevenant (Predictor Lotto) was named the Century 21 Most Aggressive Rider for Stage 3. Tomorrow's stage 4 which begins and ends in Willunga is expected to be action packed with Menzies' rivals for overall victory set to put on the pressure when the race climbs Old Willunga Hill Rd 20 kilometres from the end of the 147 kilometre stage which wends its way through McLaren Vale and along Aldinga Beach. Results 1 Baden Cooke (Aus, Unibet.com) 2:37:55 2 Chris Jongewaard (Aus, Australia - UniSA) 0:00:05 3 Matthew Goss (Aus, Team CSC) 0:00:19 4 Josep Jufre Pou (Spa, Predictor - Lotto) 5 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra, AG2r Prvoyance) 6 Gianpaolo Cheula (Ita, Barloworld) 7 Matti Breschel (Den, Team CSC) 0:00:41 8 Dimitri Champion (Fra, Bouygues Telecom) 0:00:42 9 Wim Vansevenant (Bel, Predictor - Lotto) 0:01:28 10 Jeremy Hunt (GBr, Unibet.com) 0:02:52 General classification after stage 3 1 Karl Menzies (Aus, Australia - UniSA) 10:36:38 2 Martin Elmiger (Swi, AG2r Prvoyance) 0:00:01 3 Lars Bak (Den, Team CSC) 0:00:07 4 Matthew Lloyd (Aus, Predictor - Lotto) 0:0:09 5 Gustav Larsson (Swe, Unibet.com) 0:0:17 6 Luke Roberts (Aus, Team CSC) 0:0:46 7 Gene Bates (Aus, SouthAustralia.com-AIS) 8 Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita, Barloworld) 0:0:51 9 Yannick Talabardon (Fra, Crdit Agricole) 10 Simon Clarke (Aus, SouthAustralia.com-AIS) 0:01:04 More information: www.tourdownunder.com.au Got a comment? 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