Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the bunch sprint at the end of stage three of the 2018 Tour of the Basque Country as Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) safely retained the yellow jersey of race leader.
Australian McCarthy took the honours in Valdegovía after a hilly day, to take his second WorldTour win of the season after winning the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in January.
Aleksandr Riabushenko (UAE Team Emirates) placed second with Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) in third.
Stage one and two winner Alaphilippe came home in sixth spot, and the Frenchman still sits eight seconds ahead of Primož Roglič (LottoNL-Jumbo) overall, with Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) in third at 39 seconds.
How it happened
The start of another hilly stage greeted the riders in Bermeo in the morning. Breakaway specialist Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) was joined by Christopher Juul-Jensen (Mitchelton-Scott) in instigating the day’s escape group.
They were soon joined by Benjamin King (Dimension Data), Brendan Canty (EF Education First-Drapac), Willie Smit (Katusha-Alpecin), Jon Irisarri (Caja Rural), Aritz Bagües (Euskadi-Murias) and Pavel Sivakov (Team Sky) to form a group of eight.
The group had created a gap of five minutes by the time the race hit the half-way point of its 184.8km route.
However, towards the sharp end of the day, it was back to just De Gendt and Juul-Jensen as they dropped their companions. The duo forged on ahead into the final 40km, but with a slim margin over the chasing peloton.
Team Sky duo Michal Kwiatkowski and David de la Cruz made the unusual move of attacking from the bunch on an unclassified climb with 23km to go. They swiftly opened up a gap, as they edged closer to the lead pair left from the earlier escape.
Back in the bunch, Quick-Step Floors noted the danger of Sky’s move and they massed to the front to wind up the pace to protect Alaphilippe’s lead as the rain started to fall heavily.
Despite a headwind, Kwiatkowski and de la Cruz made the junction with De Gendt and Juul-Jensen with 16.5km to go, and with a margin of 38 seconds over the peloton.
Bora-Hansgrohe joined Quick-Step Floors at the front of the bunch in the chase as the terrain started to flatten out into the final 15km. De Gendt sat up with 13.5km to go – job done in collecting King of the Mountains points – leaving three up front.
Just a kilometre later, Kwiatkowski sat up to leave de la Cruz and Juul Jensen in the lead, with only around 20 seconds on the bunch.
Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) took his chance with 10km to go, attacking from the peloton despite its high speed, but he was caught three kilometres later.
The race all came back together with 2.5km to go briefly before Alexander Aranburu (Caja Rural) put in a solo move that lasted into the final kilometre, before the sprinters started to accelerate.
McCarthy opened up his sprint early on the right-hand side of the road and managed to maintain his momentum across the line. Despite his effort in attacking earlier in the stage, Kwiatkowski had retained enough energy to place third.
The 2018 Tour of the Basque Country continues on Thursday with stage four, a significant individual time trial stage around Lodosa totalling 19.4km. The pan-flat route will suit the out-and-out time trial specialists. The race concludes on Saturday, April 7.
Tour of the Basque Country 2018, stage three: Bermeo to Valdegovía, 184.8km
1. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 4-49-39
2. Aleksandr Riabushenko (Blr) UAE Team Emirates
3. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky
4. Michael Albasini (Sui) Mitchelton-Scott
5. Enrique Sanz (Esp) Euskadi-Murias
6. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors
7. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
8. Jesus Ezquerra (Esp) Burgos-BH
9. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana
10. Enrico Battaglin (Ita) LottoNL-Jumbo, all same time
General classification after stage three
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 13-18-52
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 8 secs
3. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 39 secs
4. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 43 secs
5. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana, at 54 secs
6. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 58 secs
7. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 58 secs
8. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 58 secs
9. Enric Mas (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at 58 secs
10. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 58 secs