Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Gerrans took on sprinting duties today and pipped Cannondale's Peter Sagan by less than half a wheel to take the Australian outfit's first ever Tour de France stage win as a select bunch contested the finale of Stage 3 of the race in Calvi this afternoon. RadioShack –Leopard’s Jan Bakelants remains in the maillot jaune, leading the race by the single second by which he had held off Sagan and the chasing bunch in Ajaccio yesterday.
Orica-GreenEdge had an ignominious start to this year’s 100th Tour de France as the team bus got stuck under the finish line gantry with the peloton just 15 minutes away, throwing the race into confusion.
Today, however, its colours were taken under the finish line arch in less embarrassing fashion as Gerrans, already a winner of stages in each of cycling’s three Grand Tours, surprised Sagan to clinch victory, with Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar third.
The third and final stage on Corsica, which has provided a spectacular setting for the Grand Départ, was played out amid the stunning scenery of the west of the island, mostly along the coast and including the breathtaking coastal rock formations of the Calanques de Piana.
The 145.5km stage from Ajaccio had a saw toothed profile that included five categorised climbs, the last of those being the Category 2 Col de Marsolino, its summit coming 13.5km from the finish in Calvi.
Coming up the climb, the main group including maillot jaune Bakelants, as well as the big GC favourites including Team Sky’s Chris Froome and two-time winner Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff, reeled in the members of the day’s break one by one.
Those five riders who had escaped early on were Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoleil-DCM, AG2R’s Sebastien Minard, Sojasun’s Alexis Vuillermoz, Europcar’s Cyril Gautier and Orica GreenEdge’s Simon Clarke.
The latter found himself alone at the front of the race heading towards the final kilometre of that last climb, and had he been able to hang on, he would have been leading the mountains classification this evening.
Instead, it was the man wearing the polka dot jersey today – complete with matching shorts, helmet, gloves and Colnago frame – Pierre Rolland of Europcar who attacked from the bunch, passed Clarke, and took the maximum 10 points on offer.
The Frenchman, winner of the Alpe d’Huez stage and the best young rider’s jersey during the 2011 Tour de France, when he spent most of the race supporting Thomas Voeckler’s campaign in the maillot jaune, was caught once the road bottomed out by Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel.
Soon, Belkin’s Lars Petter Nordhaug and Mikel Nieve of Euskaltel made it a group of four. With 6 kilometres to go, their lead was just under 10 seconds.
However, while the group behind was again missing the likes of Chavanel’s team mate Mark Cavendish, rumoured to be ill and dropped on that last climb, it did include Sagan, looking to go one better than that near-miss yesterday.
Today, the sprinters still left in contention made sure they pulled back in the escapees well ahead of the finale, making the catch with more than 3km still to ride. Almost immediately, Argos-Shimano’s Tom Dumoulin launched himself off the front of the group, but he too was pegged back before the final bend.
Ahead of the final climb today, Sky’s Peter Kennaugh, riding his first Tour de France, dropped back to help team mate Geraint Thomas, struggling badly with what had today been revealed to be a fractured pelvis sustained during a crash in the chaotic finale of Stage 1 on Saturday.
Evidently in a lot of pain throughout today’s stage, even if he is fit enough to continue in the race tomorrow when it resumes with a team time trial in Nice, the condition of the two-time Olympic time trial champion must be a major concern for Sky.
With RadioShack-Leopard required to do much of the work today in defence of the maillot jaune, some other teams took things more easily – notably, Garmin Sharp, who had already targeted the team time trial ahead of the Tour, and now have a realistic chance of getting David Millar into the maillot jaune he last wore in the early days of the 2000 Tour.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.