Michael Matthews capitalised on a superb lead out from his Orica-GreenEdge teammates to win stage three of Paris-Nice.
The bonus seconds for crossing the line first also means that Matthews takes over from Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step) as the race’s overall leader by just one second.
Orica-GreenEdge led the peloton going into the final few kilometres, and resumed their position despite strong challenges from the other sprinters’ teams. With 500 metres to go Matthews still had three teammates ahead of him, and was therefore able to leave it very late until opening up his sprint from the front of the peloton.
Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Factory Racing) finished second and third respectively having both stuck to Matthews’ wheel for most of the final kilometre, although neither were able to match his acceleration in the finale.
Meanwhile Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) – one of the pre-race favourites – was fourth, which was not enough to retain his lead in the points classification, which Matthews now leads.
In the mountains classification, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) now leads ahead of Jonathan Hivert (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) having gained maximum points on all three of today’s climbs.
He formed the day’s three man break along with Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Florian Vachon (Bretagne- Seche Environnement), although Bradley Wiggins (Sky) – despite going on the attack at the start of the stage – did not make the cut.
The trio opened up a gap of five minutes ahead of the peloton and retained that distance up until about 50km to go, when the sprinters’ teams began to join Etixx-Quick Step at the front of the bunch.
The catch was made with 10km to (although Gilbert had dropped out 7km earlier), and prompted a promising looking counter-attack from Paolo Tirralongo (Astana), Jan Bakelants and Romain Bardet (both Ag2r). They pulled 16 seconds ahead of the peloton, but that gap was rapidly eradicated once Orica and the other trains starting upping the pace for the anticipated sprint.
Paris-Nice 2015, stage three: Saint-Amand-Montrond to Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule, 179km
1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge in 04-32-12
2 Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida
3 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek-Factory Racing
4 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
5 Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar
6 Mati Breschel (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo
7 Moreno Hofland (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
8 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis
9 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Europcar
10 Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ all at same time
Overall classification after stage three
1. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge in 14-25-26
2. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Etixx-QuickStep at 0-01
3. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC at same time
4. John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Alpecin at 0-03
5. Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx-QuickStep at 0-08
6. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Astana at 0-11
7. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling at 0-11
8. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Alpecin at 0-14
9. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky
10. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC all at same time