Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) comfortably won the first sprint finish of the 2018 Vuelta a España, beating Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) by a bike length on stage three.
The Italian champion's Quick-Step team controlled the front of the peloton for much of the day, but were still able to place Viviani perfectly with Danish champion Michael Mørkøv leading him out in the final 175m.
Viviani came from behind Mørkøv with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) on his wheel. But while the world champion looked unable to match the pace, Viviani's compatriot Nizzolo was able to follow as he attacked.
His pace was too strong however, and it quickly became clear that Nizzolo would have to settle for second as Viviani went well clear out front.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) safely retained the overall lead after finishing safely in the stretched out peloton along with second place overall Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
How it happened
After a tough day on a hilly route on stage two, the peloton seemed keen to take it a bit easier on the 178.2km route of stage three that began with an early category one climb.
An early break easily drifted away, with Nans Peters (Ag2r La Mondiale), Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac), Jordi Simón (Burgos-BH), Antonio Molina (Caja Rural-Seguros), Luis Ángel Maté (Cofidis) and Héctor Sáez (Euskadi-Murias) going up the road and taking a maximum advantage of around four minutes.
That gap drifted as the kilometres ticked down, with very little of action of not until they reached just over 40km go.
Quick-Step Floors controlled the gap to the break for most of the day as they eyed a sprint finish for Elia Viviani, but as Rolland sat up to return to the bunch and the gap dwindled to around 30 seconds, three riders then took the opportunity to kick some life into the stage with a counter attack.
Victor Campenaerts, Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) and Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) were the three to bridge across, though Wallays soon backtracked and returned to the bunch.
The gap looked perilous with just 23km to go at 17 seconds, but Campenaerts was keen to push on and tried to increase the gap before slipping out and crashing on a corner.
Postlberger was the next rider to try and push on alone, gaining 15 seconds over his former breakaway companions and 30 seconds over the chasing peloton.
The chasing breakaway were the first to be caught within the final 15km, while the Austrian champion leading alone out front valiantly held on with 15 seconds still at 8km to go. It all came to an abrupt end though with just under 7km to go, as he sat up to wait to be caught with Movistar leading the peloton.
Teams like FDJ and LottoNL-Jumbo then tried to fight for the lead of the bunch, with the pace ramping up so much that there were small splits in the stretched out the group as they took the final corners towards the finish.
In the end though there was little anyone could do to stop today's pre-race favourite, with Viviani continuing his great season with his maiden victory in the Vuelta.
Vuelta a España 2018, stage three: Mijas to Alhaurín de la Torre (178.2km)
1 Elia Viviani (Ita) Quick-Step Floors, in 4-48-12
2 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
4 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
5 Simone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
6 Danny van Poppel (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
7 Michael Morkov (Den) Quick-Step Floors
8 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
9 Ryan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension Data
10 Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac, all same time
Overall classification after stage three
1 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, in 9-10-52
2 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team at 14s
3 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb at 25s
4 Laurens De Plus (Bel) Quick-Step Floors at 28s
5 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida at 30s
6 Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at same time
7 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe at 32s
8 Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at 33s
9 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, at same time
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 35s
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