Afternoon, and welcome to Cycling Weekly's live coverage of stage three of the Tour de France. Today's stage runs from Amorebieta-Etxano to Bayonne, and sees the riders cross back into France from Spain on a stage that seems odds-on to end in a sprint.
Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) will no doubt by eyeing it keenly, as will Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal-Quick Step), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and, after yesterday's disappointment, Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
Today's stage features one cat-four climb and three cat-threes, but by 90km left to ride, they will all have been dispatched. With 60km to go the race crosses the border into France, and from that point on, it's near-flat to Bayonne.
193km to go: The riders are just cruising out through the neutral zone towards the start line proper under overcast skies. You ready?
193km to go: And they're off! Stage three of the Tour de France 2023 is underway. Neilson Powless putting in a dig already.
Neilsen Powless, the King of the Mountains of course. He is currently joined by Laurent Pichon from Arkea-Samsic.
191km to go: The peloton looks utterly relaxed, lined out across the road as they let Powless and Pichon head off into the distance. Well, 20sec into the distance at the latest count.
Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) wearing his polka-dot skinsuit today, complete with red shorts. He clearly means business, and with four classified climbs en route, he should be able to amass a few useful points.
182km to go: Powless and Pichon now have two minutes' advantage as they climb the first ascent of the day. It's a cat-three – the Côte de Trabakua.
178km to go: Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's Powless who collects the full two points over the top of the Trabakua. Every little helps, right? The pair are 2.11 ahead now.
170km to go: Powless and Pichon look completely committed, heads down and working well together as the gap approaches three minutes.
Mark Cavendish "is a little bit nervous", says his friend and Astana Qazaqstan's sprinting adviser Mark Renshaw. "It's good as he wants to finish his career on a high."
"The race will start 28 kilometres from the finish," reckons Renshaw, describing a tight finish with multiple turns. It's the sort Cavendish has excelled in previously, but there are far more opportunities to lose position too.
161km to go: With a kilometre to the top of the day's second climb, the cat-four Côte de Milloi, Powless and Pichon are three minutes ahead.
160km to go: The fans are rapt as Neilson Powless celebrates his first place over the top of the Milloi with a smile. Pichon doesn't put up a fight, seemingly happy to let Powless take the plaudits.
Pichon is coming towards the end of his career at 36 years old. It's unlikely, but if this breakaway did go the distance and he won, it would be by far the biggest victory of his career. His last victories – in the Classic Loire Atlantique and the Route Adélie de Vitre – were in 2017 when the team was called Fortuneo-Samsic.
152km to go: The breakaway feels the love as they pound the streets of Lekeito. The crowds are big, the flags are colourful and the noise is pure cycling passion. Add to that the picturesque marina and all the ingredients are present.
This is Vern Pitt taking over from James for a bit so he can grab a sandwich.
143km to go: The peloton is taking it rather easy today having averaged 37km per hour over the first hour and 20 minutes of the race over fairly flat ground - relatively speaking.
British National Champion Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) is writing an excellent diary column for Cycling Weekly's print edition and I spoke to him yesterday and he said its been a fiercely fought two opening days that had left him, and he's in pretty good form, feeling a little tired already. He won't be the only one and that's doubtless why they're taking it rather steady.
Though he added that the first days course was less stressful than your average Tour de France stage one.
The race leaves the Basque Country today and heads into France for the finish. The reception has been, predictably, frenzied. The scenery has been top-draw too.
134km to go: Yellow jersey contender Tadej Pogačar is making his way back through the cars having stopped for a bike change - or so it appears it wasn't caught on TV.
133km to go: Yesterday's stage winner Victor Lafay (Cofidis) has clipped off the front of the peloton in a bid to get some green jersey points at the intermediate sprint - he's wearing the green jersey now. The sprinters teams don't seem to feel compelled to chase him and he has quite a gap.
With a break of just two up the road he'll get 15 points if he crosses the sprint point in third, leaving the peloton to sprint for 13 points for fourth.
To put that in context the winner of todays stage gets 50 points. Lafay currently has 65 so he could well ensure he keeps it if he gets those 15 points.
130km to go: With about 5km until the intermediate sprint Lafay has eaten half the gap to the break already so it's not unthinkable he could challenge for the full 20 points for the winner there.
Though that does still seems a long shot.
128km to go: Scratch that the break hovers up the intermediate sprint points - it was closer than I'd though. Lafay will pick up 15 points putting him on 80.
Philippe Gilbert, who is on a motorbike, tells us that some riders were caught out having a nature break when Lafay attacked and the pace in the pleoton subsequently ticked up a bit. They're making their way back on though.
127km to go: The peloton is gunning it into the intermediate sprint. Pedersen is well placed. But Girmay is on his wheel. Now Jordi Meeus (Bora Hansgrohe) is there.
Pedersen takes it convincingly from Meers and Girmay, as far as I can tell from the pictures.
125km to go: In case you're wondering why doesn't Mark Cavendish contest that sprint. He rarely does, unless he's in contention for a the green jersey later in the race.
Having won pretty much everything he can, Cavendish is only really interested in stage wins these days. If that brings the green jersey then great, but wins have generally been his primary mission.
124km to go: The race is on a small-ish climb now, 1.8km to the top. They'll then descend and approach the biggest climb of the day, the Côte d'Orioko Benta, which climbs about 300m in 5km.
From the top of the next climb, the Côte d'Orioko Benta, its around 100km to the finish.
120km to go: There's an enthusiastic crowd at the top of the climb, even this far from the finish and KOM jersey holder Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) appreciates them.
113km to go: The break's advantage has come down a touch to 2-30. I'm sure they'll make it to the top of the next climb though as Powless is all in for the points.
103km to go: Bike change for Ben O'Connor, a very relaxed one at that. Not quite sure what the problem was there. Looks like it could have been a gearing issue.
James Shrubsall back with you now, lunchtime duties done and dusted.
100km to go: Powless and Pichon are on the final climb of the day now, the Côte d'Orioko Benta. 4.6km at 6.3%. They've certainly been kept on a tight leash by the peloton – the gap has come down to just over two minutes. Still enough, Powless will note, to take maximum points on this final climb. After that he may consider his work done for the day.
95.6km to go: Please feel free to at least partially ignore that last update. Powless and Pichon have actually just reached the Côte d'Orioko Benta. Let battle commence!
Actually 'battle' is probably not the word, as both the breakaway and the peloton are just tapping up the slopes steadily. I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest Powless might cross the summit first.
93km to go: Wout Van Aert has some sort of issue, having stopped on the climb. Looks as though he's having his cleats lubed, of all things. Perhaps he was getting some black looks within the peloton – no one likes a squeak.
91km to go: The breakaway presses on over the top of the climb, with – guess who? – Powless taking those points, with a big fist-punching celebration as he does so. He even gets a comradely pat on the back from his breakaway partner Pichon. How lovely.
87km to go: Once again the rear of the peloton comes to a standstill as the narrow roads force squeeze the bunch and the guys at the back are baulked. It happened on the climb too. No harm done though and they're quickly underway again.
81km to go: It really is job done for Powless, as he happily lets Pichon go up the road. Powless takes a musette and supplies from DS Charly Wegelius. Up ahead Pichon surges ahead with renewed vigour. He's currently 2.14 up the road and is clearly hoping to go as far as he can with this.
74km to go: It seems that riders are suffering yet again with tacks across the road, with multiple riders having to stop for wheel changes in Pasai Antxo.
70km to go: Pichon has succeeded in pushing the gap out to 2.40 now. I'd predict it's unlikely to go much further than that, but for now it reflects the effort he's putting it. The urban roadside crowds are still big – Pichon looks like he's flying and he must be loving life right now.
60km to go: Pichon crosses the border from Spain and into France, the race once again on home soil. There is little to mark the change – the crowds are still big, the weather still amazing. Pichon, who just got a heartfelt message from the team car urging him to enjoy every minute, now has 1.55 on the bunch.
52km to go: Pichon's gap is coming down fairly drastically now. It's currently hovering around 1.10 as the sprinters and their teams start to eye the Bayonne finish more seriously. Jayco-AlUla and Alpecin-Deceuninck currently doing much of the work.
Pichon is railing around these bends. On more than one occasion he's had to make a slightly heart-in-mouth correction halfway through. He's clearly determined to make this moment in the spotlight last as long as possible.
38km to go: Laurent Pichon's noble quest finally comes to an end as the bunch bears down on him. He's done a fine job of work out front today, as the late, great Paul Sherwen might have said.
25km to go: The peloton is looking decidedly more urgent now, with teams including Lotto-Dstny, Ineos Grenadiers and Soudal-Quick Step massing towards the front.
16km to go: There's a bit of a lull now as the bunch swoops up and down on rolling roads. All the same, there must be a lot of nerves in there, as they anticipate numerous roundabouts and tight turns in waiting Bayonne.
12km to go: Once again, the urgency is palpable. There are multiple teams massing in lines across the road. Lotto-Destny, Jumbo-Visma, Alpecin...
Big roundabout negotiated without too much fuss there.
It's becoming obvious that right now this is a sprint to be well-placed at the roundabouts.
6km to go. The race is fully on now, with teams giving their all as they approach the tight finish.
4km to go: The roundabouts are stringing the race out somewhat. The sprinters will be watching their positions anxiously.
3km to go: This is a 40mph drag race to the upcoming roundabout... and they're through. Uno-X at the front on the left, Soudal-Quick Step on the right.
2km to go: Soudal gunning hard now throught these endless roundabouts, they've just done a 180 through one of them.
1km to go: Intermarche is entering the fray
800m to go: Alpecin well placed, as are Jayco Alula
The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider crosses the line just ahead of Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious) in a tricky approach to the line. Wout Van Aert was involved too but sat up before the line.
That provisional result:
1. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin Deceuninck)
2. Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious)
3. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny)
4. Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal-Quick Step)
5. Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
6. Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan)
So, no stage win record for Mark Cavendish today, but on what was a very tricky finish, he will likely be encouraged by his sixth place finish.
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