Unley to Stirling 139km
Daggers from the weather, the course, the peloton
With a clear race leader, the 139km (87mi) Stage Three of the Santos Tour Down Under started to resemble the latter days of a long stage race. In many respects, the race was more orderly than in stages past, but the weather, a roasting 38˚ Celsius (100˚ Fahrenheit), an undulating course where it was hard to get a rhythm, and riders hunting for stages, conspired to make this a tough day in the saddle.
The early attack today did not come from a UniSA rider, but from an alumnus of that program and the winner of this stage last year, Will Clarke of Argos-Shimano. He built up an early lead with Orica-Greenedge's Simon Clarke (no relation). Race leader Geraint Thomas' Sky team rode tempo behind, with no one willing to help.
The six circuits of Stirling were expected to blow the field apart early and leave only the strongest to contest the finish, but with two circuits remaining, the field was largely intact and about to absorb the two-man break. That's when things got interesting. A ten-man move escaped from the peloton, and just as they were about to be reabsorbed, Cannondale's Brian Vandborg kept the pressure on and spurred a six-man group to escape Sky's grasp. They picked up the two-man break, and the eight racers worked well together to establish a 20-second gap that Sky had to work overtime just to hold close.
As the last lap started, both the break and the Sky-led peloton looked exhausted. A few riders in the break decided they weren't done, and an attack amongst the leaders shed an overheated Brian. His remaining break makes were dangling at 6km (4mi) to go when riders attacking from the dwindling peloton went by the exhausted break. Sky's grip on the race was shaky, and RadioShack's Tiago Machado, a threat to Thomas' race lead attacked, and gained time. His move looked good until, with 1.5km (.9mi) remaining, his legs exploded.
Sensing an opportunity, Cannondale's Cameron Wurf put in his bid for glory. The remaining distance to the finish line was uphill, so any hesitation from the peloton would help him towards the stage win. Under the red kite, and into the final kilometer, the field paused. This was his chance. A stage win would be a great way to signal a return to form. "Unfortunately, following my fall yesterday and due to the major pain in my ribs, I was unable to take a deep breath without excruciating pain and instantly exploded with 400 meters to go," Cam reported after the finish.
Then Team Blanco rushed to the front, sheltering their fast man Tom Slagter. Slagter, catching the sprinters off balance, raced by Cam, and held on for the win ahead of Orica- Greenedge's Matt Goss and World Champion Philippe Gilbert of BMC.
The win and resulting time bonus moved Slagter to five seconds down on Thomas. It would have been only a four-second gap, but Thomas had wisely sprinted for and won a one-second bonus at the first intermediate sprint. That second could matter for the final standings, as the race should be a nail-biter until the final sprint.
Stage Four, the 126.5km (79mi) ride from Modbury to Tanuda is rolling, but finishes on a flat road after almost 30km (18mi) of descending. This finish should favor the well-oiled sprint train of Lotto-Belisol and points to a victory by their big man, Andre Greipel. But every day brings opportunities for attackers to race smart and outwit the sprinters teams. Now that Cannondale has changed their strategy to favor stage hunting, expect the guys in green to figure in the action.
Stage 3 Results Unley to Stirling 139km
1. Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Blanco - 3:36:46 - same time
2. Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge - same time
3. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC - same time
4. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling - same time
5. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar - same time
Stage 3 Results Cannondale
33. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) - 0:00:21
46. Cameron Wurf (Aus) - 0:01:14
68. Stefano Agostini (Ita) - 0:04:31
71. Alan Marangoni (Ita) - same time
73. Federico Canuti (Ita) - same time
104. Brian Vandborg (Den) - 0:07:34
121. Juraj Sagan (Svk) - 0:11:47
1. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling - 9:56:17
2. Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Blanco - 0:00:05
3. Javier Moreno Bazan (Spa) Movistar - 0:00:06
4. Ben Hermans (Bel) Radioshack Leopard - 0:00:08
5. Daniele Pietropolli (Ita) Lampre-Merida - 0:00:15
26. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) - 0:01:50
50. Stefano Agostini (Ita) - 0:05:51
58. Federico Canuti (Ita) - 0:07:18
78. Cameron Wurf (Aus) - 0:09:22
80. Brian Vandborg (Den) - 0:10:22
104. Juraj Sagan (Svk) - 0:14:34
106. Alan Marangoni (Ita) - 0:14:53