Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) put in a determined solo effort to net stage three of the Volta a Catalunya in Spain on Wednesday and move into the overall race lead.
The Belgian had been part of the day’s escape group, but had left his companions behind on the first of two categorised climbs. The stage had been shortened by race organisers due to adverse weather, with two of the original climbs removed.
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) sprinted home to claim second place 20 seconds behind De Gendt, with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) in third.
De Gendt now takes the overall race lead from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) with four stages remaining. Valverde slips to second place overall at 23 seconds, with Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) in third at 29 seconds.
How it happened
The stage was originally due to finish at the Vallter 2000 ski resort, but poor weather led the organisers to shorten the stage from 199km to 153.2km and a finish in Camprodon, featuring just two categorised climbs.
Five riders were in the day’s escape group: Clément Chevrier (Ag2r La Mondiale), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Lluís Mas (Caja Rural), Pablo Torres (Burgos BH) and Mikel Bizkarra (Euskadi Basque Country-Murias).
Breakaway specialist De Gendt was evidently in good shape, and took the category one climb of Coll de Bracons. In tackling that climb and the subsequent descent, De Gendt dropped his breakaway companions.
The Belgian arrived at the second category Collabós climb with 20km to go with an advantage over the Movistar-led peloton of one minute and 44 seconds.
There was no immediate rush to chase De Gendt down, with Movistar, Mitchelton-Scott and BMC Racing involved at the front of the bunch.
As they headed towards the crest of the climb, a small group of riders attacked off the front, comprising Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Mathias Frank (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
De Gendt, meanwhile, had managed crested the top of the climb and had maintained a gap of 50 seconds over the four chasers into the flatter final 10km.
Having missed the attack from the bunch, Team Sky led the chase at the front of the reduced bunch, with a 30-second deficit over the Quintana/Yates group.
Yates was the first to attack from the chasers, but could not shake off his three companions. However, his move reduced De Gendt’s gap to just over 30 seconds, with the peloton a further 30 seconds behind inside 6km to go.
With 5km to go, De Gendt was rocking on his bike, evidently suffering with fatigue but still looking absolutely committed to keeping the four chasers at bay despite his earlier efforts.
Heading towards the final 2km, the gaps started to close up. De Gendt had 28 seconds over the four chasers, with the peloton at 42 seconds. Bahrain-Merida and UAE Team Emirates joined Sky at the front of the peloton.
Quintana attacked under the kilometre-to-go banner, but was quickly caught by Yates, Pinot and Frank.
After De Gendt crossed the finish in celebration of his huge effort, the Quintana/Yates group were caught by the peloton just before the line – but Yates managed to hang on to claim second place.
Behind, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education First-Drapac) were among those caught up in a crash in the final kilometre.
The 2018 Volta a Catalunya continues on Thursday with stage four, another key climbing stage featuring a final long ascent to the line at La Molina. The race finishes on Sunday in Barcelona.
Volta a Catalunya 2018, stage three: Sant Cugat to Camprodón, 153.2km
1. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, in 4-14-48
2. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 20 secs
3. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
4. Mathias Frank (Sui) Ag2r La Mondiale
5. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar
6. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
7. Maximilian Schachmann (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
8. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky
9. Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida
10. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors, at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, in 12-34-54
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 23 secs
3. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott, at 29 secs
4. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 29 secs
5. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 31 secs
6. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 33 secs
7. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 35 secs
8. Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida, at 35 secs
9. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors, at 35 secs
10. Eduard Prades (Esp) Euskadi-Murias, at 35 secs