The Australian sprinter was out of position and chasing Sam Bennett (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) in the final 100 metres, but Ewan found an extra gear to kick from behind and weaved his way through the tightest gap to narrowly secure the victory.
Ewan's victory is the first for Lotto-Soudal in this Tour and will be a welcome result, as the Belgian WorldTour squad lost both John Degenkolb and Philippe Gilbert after the opening stage.
Bennett took a frustrating second place, with Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling) rounding out the podium.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) finished safely in the bunch to hold onto his yellow jersey for another day.
How it happened
The third day of racing in the 2020 Tour de France route was slated as a stage for the sprinters, but it was far from the pan-flat parcours we’re used to from a Grand Tour sprint.
Stage three was a long 198km day in the saddle from Nice to Sisteron, with four categorised climbs and more than 3,000 metres of climbing spread throughout the day.
The first two climbs came within rapid succession between the 45km to 64km marks, both third category with the Col du Pilon (8.4km at 5.1 per cent) first followed by the Col de la Faye (5.3km at 4.8 per cent).
After a rolling middle section, the penultimate climb was the category three Col des Lèques (6.9km at 5.4 per cent) which marked the start of the long downhill 60km to the line.
But at 150km, the peloton still had to handle the category four Col de l’Orme, which is just 2.7km-long at five per cent.
The final section featured a long gradual descent for 25km before the road very gently curved upwards in the final 10km, leading riders to a long, straight headwind drag for the line.
With the sprint teams focused on the finish and the general classification teams trying to stay out of trouble, there was very little interest in a breakaway but three riders did make their escape from the peloton to set up a long day in the saddle.
Mountains classification leader Benoît Cosnfroy (Ag2r La Mondiale), Anthony Perez (Cofidis) and Jérôme Cousin (Total Direct Energie) made up the all-French escape and the trio pulled out a three-minute advantage early on.
Perez proved himself the strongest on the day’s climbs, securing points on the first two ascents of the day and moving into the lead in the mountains competition, but it was Cousin who grew impatient with the group and attacked solo with 128km still to race.
Cosnefroy and Perez opted to sit up and were caught by the peloton, while Cousins settled down to spend the day alone with his thoughts, extending his gap to around four minutes.
There was very little action in the middle section of the race, aside from an ill-fated two-rider attack from Ag2r La Mondiale, with Cosnefroy and Nans Peters making a half-hearted attempt to get up the road from the peloton but giving up with 65km to race.
Drama did come on the descent of the Col des Lèques however, when Perez suffered a puncture and then collided with his Cofidis team car. The virtual leader of the KoM classification was forced to abandon the race with a broken collarbone, without ever getting to wear the polka-dot jersey.
With 20km left to race Deceuninck - Quick-Step were the controlling team in the peloton, with the entire squad lined up ahead of Sam Bennett, while Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma sat at the front of the bunch to protect their leaders.
After more than 100km out front alone, Cousin was finally swept up by the bunch 16km from home and secured the award for most aggressive rider in the process.
The bunch together, it was time for the sprint.
Quick-Step kept the pace into the final 5km when a roundabout caused some minor crashes in the bunch, with Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) touching down and losing the bunch and any chance at sprinting himself in the process.
Riding into a headwind for the entire of the final, Sunweb who took up the race inside the final kilometre.
Just 200m from the line the race looked like it was swaying to Sunweb’s sprinter Cees Bol, but the headwind took its toll and the Dutchman faded.
Bennett then fired his sprint by the right side barrier and went clear into the lead.
Ewan finally opened his sprint from sixth place, sneaking from the centre of the road to the right hand side, very narrowly making it past Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), then moving left to travel the long way around Bennett, pushing in front just 10m from the line.
The victory is Ewan’s fourth in the Tour de France after his trio of wins last year.
Alaphilippe continues to lead the race by just four seconds over Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
The race continues with the first mountain finish on stage four, over 160km from Sisteron to Orciéres-Merlette, which closes at the top of the 10km-long, six per cent average Orciéres climb.
Tour de France 2020, stage three: Nice to Sisteron (198km)
1. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto-Soudal, 5-17-42
2. Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
3. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling
4. Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
6. Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
7. Cees Bol (Ned) Sunweb
8. Matteo Trentin (Ita) CCC Team
9. Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept p/b KTM
10. Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Total Direct Energie, all at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 13-59-17
2. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 4s
3. Marc Hirschi (Sui) Team Sunweb, at 7s
4. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
5. Davide Formolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
6. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers
7. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
8. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Pro Cycling
9. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis
10. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time
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