Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) won stage three of the Critérium du Dauphiné in Tarare on Tuesday.
The Norwegian sprinted clear of Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma) to take the victory.
Stage one winner David Veilleux (Europcar) finished in the bunch to maintain his overall lead in the race ahead of Meersman, at one minute and 56 seconds. Tony Gallopin (RadioShack) is third at 1-57.
An escape group formed up from the gun, with Sander Cordeel (Lotto-Belisol), Fumiyuki Beppu (Orica-GreenEdge), Jacob Rathe (Garmin-Sharp) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) forging a gap over the bunch that hovered around the five-minute mark until they hit the first of the day’s two categorised climbs – the Col des Echarmeaux.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep and FDJ moved to the front of the peloton to wind up the pace and bring down the time gap significantly with a bunch sprint finish in mind.
Cordeel was the last rider of the break to get caught, with 13km to go and on the final categorised climb of the day, Col des Sauvages. First Laurent Didier (RadioShack) and then Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Belisol) attacked before the summit. Didier was quickly re-absorbed by the peloton, but De Clercq pressed on over the summit and on to the descent to the finish.
The Belgian was eventually caught just before the final kilometre. Geraint Thomas then took charge of peloton pace-setting for Sky, and gave a solid lead-out to Boasson Hagen who powered to the line to take the win.
Tomorrow is the first stage for the overall contenders to really show their hand: a pan-flat 32.5km individual time trial from Villars-les-Dombes to Parc des Oiseaux. Last year, Bradley Wiggins won the Dauphiné’s long individual test against the clock ahead of Tony Martin (Omega Pharma). Froome placed sixth. With Wiggins not present, and a question mark over Martin’s health and form, it will be down to Froome to stamp his authority on the race.
Criterium du Dauphine 2013, stage three: Ambérieu-en-Bugey to Tarare, 167km
1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky in 4-03-32
2. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
3. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
4. Thor Hushovd (Nor) BMC Racing
5. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale
6. Jacques Janse van Rensburg (RSA) Argos-Shimano
7. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ
8. Paul Voss (Ger) NetApp-Endura
9. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
10. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Astana all at same time
Overall classification after stage three
1. David Veilleux (Can) Europcar in 12-00-22
2. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 1-56
3. Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Leopard at 1-57
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 1-57
5. Warren Barguil (Fra) Argos-Shimano at 1-57
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 1-57
7. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 1-57
8. Angel Madrazo (Spa) Movistar at 1-57
9. Richie Porte (Aus) Sky at 1-57
10. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo-Tinkoff at 1-57
Jacob Rathe heads escape group
Edvald Boasson Hagen wins
David Veilleux stays in overall race lead