By Nigel Wynn
Mark Cavendish (Sky) strengthened his position in the overall lead of the Ster ZLM Toer on Saturday, placing second behind Lars Boom (Rabobank) in the race's third stage.
What is worthy of remark is that Cavendish was part of a small lead group on a seriously hilly stage with a sharp uphill kick to the line that was dominated by classics men such as Boom and Cavendish's Sky team-mate Juan Antonio Flecha, who finished in third.
Cavendish's sprint rivals Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) - both of whom had got the better of the world champion on the race's preceding bunch sprints - finished well over 13 minutes down.
Cavendish has been increasing his hill training ahead of July's Olympic Games road race, which takes in nine punishing circuits of Box Hill. Very similar terrain to Saturday's lumpy route in the Ardennes from Hotel Verviers to La Gileppe in Belgium.
That Cavendish managed to distance his sprint rivals with such apparent ease bodes well for his London 2012 aims. Between now and then, of course, there's Cavendish's defence of the green jersey in the Tour de France.
The net result is that although Cavendish has not won a stage in the 2012 Ster ZLM Toer, his consistency has paid off. The Manxman leads the race eight seconds ahead of Boom, and 14 seconds ahead of team-mate Flecha.
It's back to more traditional territory for Cavendish during Sunday's flat final stage from Schijndel to Boxtel that will undoubtedly end with a bunch sprint. Barring disaster, Cavendish looks to have the overall victory safely within reach.
Ster ZLM Toer 2012 stage three: Hotel Verviers to La Gileppe, 184km
1. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank in 4-52-46
2. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky
3. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Sky
4. Koen De Kort (Ned) Argos-Shimano
5. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan
6. Maxime Vantomme (Bel) Katusha
7. Dennis Van Winden (Ned) Rabobank
8. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Belisol
9. Lars Bak (Den) Lotto-Belisol
10. Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen at same time
Overall classification after stage three
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky in 12-36-01
2. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank at 8 secs
3. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Sky at 14 secs
4. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan at 18 secs
5. Sven Vandousselaere (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen
6. Nikolay Trusov (Rus) RusVelo
7. Lars Bak (Den) Lotto-Belisol
8. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
9. Koen De Kort (Ned) Argos-Shimano
10. Dennis Van Winden (Ned) Rabobank
Greipel wins stage two as Cavendish takes lead in Ster ZLM Toer
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