Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-Scott) won stage three of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, narrowly edging out Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in a bunch sprint in Riba-Roja de Tùria.
The Dane bided his time in a technical final kilometre that saw a couple of crashes, hitting the front with impeccable timing with just under 200m to go.
Bouhanni, who is probably the biggest-name sprinter in the race, was unable to overcome Nielsen, powering out of the 24-year-old’s slipstream, but only being able to draw alongside him rather than edge in front.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) held the yellow jersey coming into the stage, and never looked under pressure to finish in ninth place.
After Tony Martin’s stunning solo win on stage two of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, the sprinters’ teams were hoping for more luck on the flat finish of stage three.
A six man group consisting of Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Aitor Gonzalez (Euskadi Basque Country), Daniel Lopez (Burgos-BH) Ben Perry and Tyler Williams (Israel Cycling Academy), and Julio Amores (Inteja Dominican) escaped early in the stage building up a maximum advantage of around four minutes.
With both the break and the peloton having to deal with strong crosswinds, Amores was dropped with around 100km to go, leaving only four men out front.
Those crosswinds also led to counter-attacks off the front of the peloton, with Jos Van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Elmar Reinders (Roompot-Nederlande Loterij) bridging across to the front group with 35km remaining, creating a six-man break with a lead of around 50 seconds.
However that group didn’t stay together for long, as Van Emden showed himself as the strongest rider out front, as he rode away from his breakaway companions to go solo with 25km remaining.
But for all Van Emden’s efforts, the sprinters’ teams were not going to let another solo effort go all the way to the line as Direct Energie led the peloton, catching Van Emden with around 14km to go.
Over the final few kilometres there were a few brief counter-attacks off the front of the bunch, with a number of Spanish riders from the smaller teams keen for a bit of television airtime.
A technical final kilometre feature two tight right hand bends, including one with only 400m to go, making positioning crucial. And it was Nielsen who was in the best position, hitting the front with 200m to go as Bouhanni was unable to come around him.
Saturday sees the race’s queen stage, with a summit finish to Llucena, the final climb being just under 4km long with an average gradient of 12 per cent.
Although far from the best climber in the race, Van Avermaet may well fancy his chances of holding on to the race lead, with Sky’s David Lopez posing the most imminent threat at 28 seconds back, while Nairo Quintana is 54 seconds in arrears.
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2017, stage three: Canals to Riba-Roja de Tùria, 161km
1. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-Scott, in 3-49-02
2. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis
3. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie
4. Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
5. Enrique Sanz (Esp) Spain
6. Samuel Caldeira (Por) W52-FC Porto-Porto Canal
7. Oliver Naesen (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale
8. Zakari Dempster (Nzl) Israel Cycling Academy
9. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing
10. Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, all same time
General classification after stage three
1. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, in 9-17-13
2. Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing, at same time
3. Manuel Senni (Ita) BMC Racing, at 7 secs
4. David Lopez (Esp) Team Sky, at 28 secs
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC Racing, at 44 secs
6. David De La Cruz (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at 48 secs
7. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors, at 49 secs
8. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors, at same time
9. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 54 secs
10. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 56 secs