Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data) won stage three of the Tour of the Alps with a late solo attack from an elite group of favourites.
It is the biggest win of the 22-year-old Australian’s fledgling career, having impressed yesterday by sticking with the overall favourites on the race’s queen stage.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) won the sprint for second in a group of 10 riders that arrived fives seconds behind O’Connor, and becomes the new overall leader of the race.
The Frenchman leapfrogs incumbent leader Ivan Sosa, who went down in a crash on a descent 20km from the finish that was not caught on camera. The young Colombian remounted and managed to finish the stage, but was over four minutes down, ending his hopes for overall victory.
Chris Froome (Sky) was a part of the group of favourites, and remains in fourth overall.
O’Connor and Pinot were both part of an ambitious attack that enlivened the race 50km from the finish, breaking clear of the peloton along with Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) on the category one Passo Mendola.
The trio caught up to and eventually past the day’s original break, and built up a lead that peaked at nearly one minute, but were ultimately brought back on a descent 12km from the finish, thanks partly to some very fast descending from Froome.
How it happened
A breakaway went clear at the start of the day consisting of four riders. They were: Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r La Mondiale), Manuel Senni (Bardiani CSF) and Stephan Rabitsch (Felbermayr-Simplon Wels)
They maintained a lead over the peloton during a quiet start to the stage, with incidents limited to a couple of benign crashes, one involving GC threat Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) with 120km to go.
The race burst into life when Pinot, Pozzovivo and O’Connor made their move on the Passo Mendola. They quickly bridged up to the leading group on the climb, with Pozzovivo pushing on at the front to take maximum points over the summit.
Astana took up the chase in the peloton behind, but, despite having all seven of their roster massed at the front, could not make any inroads into the one minute gap.
Panic seemed to set in on the day’s final climb – the category three Passo Palada, crested 26km from the finish – when Astana’s leader Lopez moved ahead of his teammates in an attempt to make the chase on his own. Froome latched onto his wheel, but the two quickly thought better of it and dropped back behind the Astana train of domestiques.
The situation only swung back in the peloton’s favour when, later on the climb, Sky’s Kenny Elissonde took up the pace. The pint-sized Frenchman, who has been impressive all race, buried himself at the front of the bunch, just as Visconti – who had been the main pace-setter in the leading group – had swung off.
By the time Elissonde had emptied the tank close to the summit, the gap had been reduced to just 28 seconds, and continued to fall when Froome attacked all the way to the summit.
Only Pinot, Pozzovivo and O’Connor remained from the leading group once they reached the summit, with a group featuring only Froome, Sosa, Lopez, Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) only a handful of seconds adrift.
It was Froome again who took it upon himself to make the chase, setting a searing pace on the descent to catch the leading trio with 12km left to ride. They formed a new leading group of eleven riders, made-up of the aforementioned riders plus Fabio Aru (UAE Emirates), Alexandre Geniez (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Michal Schlegel (CCC Sprandi Polkowice).
The one major absentee was Sosa, who had fallen on the descent.
Froome finally slowed the pace once the bottom of the descent had been reached with 7.5km to go. In the subsequent decrease in pace, O’Connor used the opportunity to attack.
The Australian managed to build a gap of around ten seconds and, despite remaining within the chasers sight on a long straight road 2km from the finish, managed to hold on for victory.
Lopez surprisingly took to the front of the chasing group himself rather than using his domestique Sanchez, and consequently wore himself out to be dropped in the final kilometre.
As a result, Lopez lost around ten seconds on the other favourites, meaning he remains in third overall while Pozzovivo overtakes him to move second.
The Tour of the Alps continues tomorrow with a 134km stage from Chiusa/Klausen to Lienz, on what could be another day for crafty attacks among the overall contenders.
Tour of the Alps 2018 stage three: Ora/Auer – Merano/Meran (138.3k)
1 Ben O’Connor (Aus) Dimension Data, in 3-30-05
2 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 5s
3 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
4 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo
5 Luis León Sanchez (Esp) Astana Pro Team
6 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky
7 Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
8 Manuel Senni (Ita) Bardiani CSF
9 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Michal Schlegel (Cze) CCC Sprandi Polkowice, all same time
Overall classification after stage three
1 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, in 10-52-19
2 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 15s
3 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team, st
4 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 16s
5 Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 50s
6 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 1-21
7 Luis León Sanchez (Esp) Astana Pro Team, at 1-27
8 Ben O’Connor (Aus) Dimension Data, at 1-36
9 Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, at 1-35