David de la Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) held on to take a narrow solo victory on stage three of the Tour of the Basque Country, also moving into the race lead in the process.
De la Cruz had sprung a surprise with a powerful attack on the final climb of the day, shooting clear of a Sky-led peloton, and cresting the top of the climb with 10km remaining with a lead of 16 seconds, while yellow jersey Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) was dropped on the steep slopes.
Tackling the technical descent alone helped the Quick-Step Floors rider hold on to his advantage heading into a flat final three kilometres along the sea front in Donostia.
Although the gap back to the reduced group of chasers steadily dropped on the final run towards the line, here was not enough power in the group behind to reel in De la Cruz, enabling him to cross the line with arms aloft for the second time this year, with Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) leading home the chasing bunch ahead of Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe).
The third stage of the Tour of the Basque Country saw a big fight to get in the breakaway, with a strong group going clear, consisting of Alessandro De Marchi (BMC Racing), Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r La Mondiale), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Sergio Pardilla (Caja Rural), Arnaud Courteille (FDJ), Antonio Nibali (Bahrain Merida), Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac), and Eros Capecchi (Quick-Step Floors).
Their maximum advantage at about the mid-point of the stage was just under five minutes, with hard riding from the peloton over the first few of the day’s five classified climbs to pull them back.
The only real drama in the chase came when Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) crashed in the feed zone, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) both suffered punctures at the base of the final climb. Valverde was quickly able to regain contact, but Yates was unable to get back in.
Team Sky led the peloton onto the final climb of Medizorrotz, but they were not able to deter an attack from David De la Cruz , who quickly opened a gap of 30 seconds.
De la Cruz’s attack encouraged counters, with Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) among those to try their luck, and although no one was quite able to bridge over to De la Cruz, the constant accelerations were enough to drop race leader Matthews
By the top of the climb with 10km remaining De la Cruz had a lead of 16 seconds over the peloton led by Sunweb’s Sam Oomen.
A narrow, technical, and poorly surfaced upper part of the descent played into the Spaniard’s hands, but once the road opened up with six kilometres to go, De la Cruz in the sight of the chasers.
With three kilometres to go the road flattened out as De la Cruz reached the outskirts of the town of Donostia, heading along the sea front in a race finale similar to that when he took victory in the final stage of Paris-Nice in March.
By the flamme rouge De la Cruz’s advantage was down to just a handful of seconds, but it was enough for him to take victory by a just three seconds, taking the race lead in the process.
Tour of the Basque Country 2017, stage three: Gasteiz to Donostia (161km)
1. David de la Cruz (Esp) Quick-Step Floors 3:54:25
2. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, at 3 secs
3. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe
4. Alejandro Valverde (Eso) Movistar
5. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
6. Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ
7. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
8. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
9. Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal
10. Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb, all at same time
General classification after stage three
1. David de la Cruz (Esp) Quick-Step Floors
2. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 3 secs
3. Alejandro Valverde (Eso) Movistar
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky
5. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
6. Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ
7. Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal
8. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana
9. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale
10. Ruben Fernandez (Esp) Movistar, all at same time