It was all change at the Tour of Murcia on Friday as Luke Roberts (Milram) clinched the mountainous third stage of the race and Josep Jufré (Astana) moved into the overall lead.
Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil) came second behind Australian Roberts, with Jufré in third.
Winner of the first two stages and former race leader Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Transitions) quit the race during the stage to be with his wife, who had gone into labour with their second child.
Britain’s Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) rode well, and finished ninth on the stage at the same time as Roberts and, crucially, at the same time as all of the other main GC contenders – including Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank).
The day’s action blew apart – as expected – on the five-day race’s biggest climb, the 1,150m Alto del Collado Bermejo. Pieter Weening (Rabobank) crested the climb first and attempted to maintain his advantage with four other escapees, including Jufré. However, 20+ strong chase group containing Roberts, Wiggins and the other favourites caught and passed them before the line in Alhama de Murcia.
Wiggins, currently placed 11th overall, is now set up to make his assault on Saturday’s decisive 22km individual time trial. Whoever wins the time trial is likely to take the overall lead and keep it until the race’s final stage on Sunday.
Blain retains intermediate sprint jersey for Endura
British-based Endura Racing Team continue to punch above their weight in the Tour of Murcia, with Frenchman Alexandre Blain working hard to retain the blue intermediate sprint jersey during stage three.
Along with Blain’s success, Endura’s Ian Wilkinson was in sixth spot overall before the start of stage three after two top ten places.
“We moved up to car six in the convoy today, which was kind of surreal,” Endura directeur sportif Garry Beckett told Cycling Weekly. “Radioshack were in front and Astana, Cervelo and Sky were behind us!”
“If we come out of it with what we have achieved so far, we can give ourselves a pat on the back. When you consider where we were three weeks ago, the riders have achieved a lot.”
Endura have taken on a punishing European racing schedule, but have quickly found their feet amongst the vastly-better resourced ProTour and Pro Continental squads. Even on stage three’s big climb, the Alto del Collado Bermejo, the squad’s riders kept on fighting.
“The climb was about 20km long and one car wide. It was brutal. Jack [Bauer] got dropped on the way up but managed to get back on,” Beckett said.
“He finished about half way up the lead group of about 30. Young Ross [Creber] hit the deck fairly early on when an Astana rider crashed in front of him, but he was OK.”
Tour of Murcia 2010: Stage three
1. Luke Roberts (Aus) Milram 166.5km in 4-16-47
2. Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil
3. Josep Jufre (Spa) Astana
4. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank
5. Andreas Kloden (Ger) RadioShack
6. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank
7. Stefan Denifl (Aut) Cervelo
8. Michel Kreder (Ned) Garmin-Transitions
9. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky
10. Jose Herrada (Spa) Caja Rural all same time.
32. Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky at 9secs
46. Ian Wilkinson (GB) Endura at 8-07
53. Russell Downing (GB) Team Sky at 11-37
54. Evan Oliphant (GB) Endura at 11-37
59. Rob Partridge (GB) Endura at 11-37
95. James Moss (GB) Endura at 23-53
97. Ross Creber (GB) Endura ar 23-53
Overall classification after stage three
1. Josep Jufre (Spa) Astana in 12-52-39
2. Luke Roberts (Aus) Milram
3. Frantisek Rabon (Cze) HTC-Columbia
4. Rob Ruijgh (Ned) Vacansoleil
5. Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Milram
6. Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) CCC Polsat Polowice
7. Wouter Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil
8. Matteo Carrara (Ita) Vacansoleil
9. Pieter Weening (Ned) Rabobank all same time.
10. Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil at 5secs
11. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 5secs
13. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 5secs
14. Andreas Kloden (Ger) RadioShack at 5secs
19. Lance Armstrong (USA) RadioShack at 5secs
41. Ian Wilkinson (GB) Endura at 8-07
Chris Froome leads Bradley Wiggins as they chase the break
RadioShack take control for Lance Armstrong
Luke Roberts wins stage three
Josep Jufre takes the overall lead
Alexandre Blain of the British-based Endura team retains the blue intermediate sprint jersey