Taco van der Hoorn looked as shocked as everyone else as he realised he'd done enough to hold off the peloton by just four seconds and take the stage three victory against the odds at the 2021 Giro d'Italia.
The Dutchman had made the day's break over the 190km course and surprisingly decided to dispense with his final companion, Simon Pellaud, with around 8km to go despite the pair working well together and holding less than a minute's advantage over the bunch.
He did it, though, the Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux rider grimacing and battling his tired legs as he denied the remaining sprinters a bunch finish and delighting all three of his team's title sponsors, the disbelief washing over his face as he crossed the line just ahead of an exasperated peloton.
Israel Start-Up Nation's Davide Cimolai won the sprint from behind as Peter Sagan took third, Bora-Hansgrohe having worked hard all day to try and set up the victory for the Slovakian.
Elia Viviani (Cofidis) had to settle for fourth, UAE Team Emirates' Fernando Gaviria seventh. In the GC, Deceuninck - Quick-Step's Remco Evenepoel moved up to third as Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) dropped from the peloton in the latter half of the day, as Astana's Aleksandr Vlasov also jumped to seventh overall as others fell out of the top 10.
How it happened
A rainy start in Biella for the peloton, jackets on as they began the 190km route to Canale and seven riders initially got off the front including Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r Citroën), Taco Van Der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert-Matériaux), as well as, of course, Simon Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermic).
Androni’s 18-year-old Ukrainian Andrii Ponomar also then tried to make it across and had to battle to make the junction, Pellaud sitting up when got close to help draft him safely into the group.
The break slowly began to build their advantage up, reaching six and a half minutes after 30km, the rain starting to relent slightly and the forecast looking better the further they peddled. Bora-Hansgrohe’s Maciej Bodnar was working on the front, Alpecin-Fenix soon chipping in a rider to help.
With 100km remaining two minutes had been lopped off the break’s advantage, the first half of the race largely uneventful in terms of both action and parcours but the latter containing the categorised climbs and intermediate sprints for the day.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) almost got taken out by another rider in the feed zone, as Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) also had to stop for a bike change, while up ahead Pellaud took the intermediate sprint before Ponomarhit out on the first climb of the day that followed, but he only lasted for 2km before being reeled back in.
This third category climb was 7.5km in length with an average gradient of 4.9 per cent, and after Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos) had pointlessly sprinted from the peloton for points that didn’t exist and the peloton began the climb, the break’s advantage slimmed by another minute to around 3-30.
As behind Ewan started to struggle up the gradient, Pellaud attacked towards the summit, Vincenzo Albanese (EOLO-Kometa) and Lars van den Berg (Groupama-FDJ) following.
Pellaud then faded, Albanese taking the points to keep the KOM jersey on his shoulders, as the escapees came back together on the descent.
Bahrain-Victorious’ Matej Mohorič then came to the front on the descent, as he is loath to do, joining Bodnar, before a crash in the peloton brought down EOLO-Kometa’s Manuel Beletti. Up ahead Ponomar also nearly came a cropper on a corner, braking hard to avoid going off the edge.
Ewan made it back on in time for the next climb, a 4km-long category 4, with Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) among the first to be dropped, Bora-Hansgrohe turning up the pace, as Ponomar was dropped from the break.
Soon Ewan was also dropped again, Albanese taking maximum KOM points once more, Bora continuing to push the pace, Elia Viviani (Cofidis) just about hanging in there.
Ponomar had drifted back to the peloton as it ticked under 40km to go, the break now only 1-40 ahead up the third and final categorised climb of the day - another uphill section following but containing sprint bonification seconds at the top.
Nizzolo was hanging in there but slowly going backward as Bora hit the front once more. Samuele Rivi (EOLO-Kometa) was the next to be caught by the bunch, grimacing as Bora eased past him, UAE Team Emirates and Ineos the next in line.
Sagan was starting to struggle a bit, Fernando Gaviria looking like he was having a much better time in his wheel as Pellaud took the maximum KOM points over the top. With 35km to go, the gap stood at a minute and a half.
After Gougeard also dropped from the break five were still left out front, their advantage dipping towards the minute mark with under 20km to go.
The road soon kicked up once more towards the bonus seconds at the sprint point, Pellaud attacking with 17km to the line, Van der Hoorn the only one able to follow. Sagan was looking more measured now, Gaviria not on his wheel anymore.
As Albanese came back to the peloton Tony Gallopin (Ag2r Citroën) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) went on the attack, putting Bora under pressure.
Pellaud took the bonus seconds, because why not, as cars began to get pulled out from in between the group as the race quickly started to come back together.
10km to go and Pellaud and Van der Hoorn still had 38 seconds over the peloton, while Gallopin and Ciccone were only 10 seconds ahead of the bunch.
Despite the leading duo working well together, Van der Hoorn decided to leave Pellaud behind, attacking his former collaborator and setting off alone up the road.
Van der Hoorn was putting on a show, battling his bike as he maintained his minute advantage into the final 6.5km.
Ciccone upped the pace behind to give his poursuivant move some life as they began to run out of road, as Pellaud was swallowed up by the peloton.
With only 2km to go Van der Hoorn’s advantage was down to 19 seconds, Ciccone and Gallopin brought back in by the UAE Team Emirates-led peloton, Fernando Gaviria hovering ominously.
Under the flamme rouge and 15 seconds of space for Van der Hoorn meant this one going down to the wire. Impossible to call in the final few hundred metres, it finally dawned on Van der Hoorn and everyone else as he came around the final bend that he'd done enough to secure not only the biggest win of his career so far, but also the first of Intermarché's debut season at WorldTour level.
Giro d'Italia 2021, stage three: Biella to Canale (190km)
1. Taco van der Hoorn (Ned) Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux, in 4-21-29
2. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Israel Start-Up Nation, at four seconds
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
4. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cofidis
5. Patrick Bevin (NZl) Israel Start-Up Nation
6. Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix
7. Fernando Gaviria (Col) UAE Team Emirates
8. Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education - Nippo
9. Stefano Oldani (Ita) Lotto-Soudal
10. Jacopo Mosca (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
General classification after stage three
1. Filippo Ganna (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers, in 8-51-26
2. Tobias Foss (Nor) Jumbo-Visma, at 16 seconds
3. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 20s
4. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck-Quick-Step , at same time
5. Rémi Cavagna (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 21s
6. Gianni Moscon (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers, at 26s
7. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana, at 27s
8. Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF-Nippo, at 29s
9. Jonathan Castroviejo (Esp) Ineos Grenadiers, at 30s
10. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 32s
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1