Endura's Jonathan Tiernan-Locke has continued his strong vein of early season form with a third place on the mountainous opening stage of the Tour of Murcia, just 16 seconds off Colombian winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
After a day long move of nine on the 184 km stage had been brought back thanks to Rabobank and Euskaltel-Euskadi, Tiernan-Locke broke away on the decisive climb of the day, the Collado Bermejo. The Briton attacked around eight kilometres from the summit, with Quintana coming across but failing to work to help open the gap.
A small group of around seven riders containing Wouter Poels (Vancasoleil) and 2008 Olympics champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) gave chase on the densely wooded first category climb.
Quintana said later he had attacked 1.5 kilometres from the top, knowing that it would be impossible to drop Tiernan-Locke on the four kilometre descent that followed.
On the notoriously difficult, twisty descent to the finish, Quintana maintained his distance, with the first year pro. taking the stage win, Poels finishing second and Tiernan-Locke 16 seconds down in third place. Whilst Samuel Sanchez was fifth at 26 seconds, another top climber, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), was seventh at 53 seconds.
Originally a five day race, but reduced to a two-day event in 2012 because of a lack of sponsors - a sadly familiar story in Spanish racing this days - Murcia will now be decided on tomorrow's final stage. This is a 12.3 kilometre pancake flat individual time trial through the streets of the capital.
"Jonathan's in a good position at least to finish on the final podium, if you look you'll see he did a good ride in the Tour of Britain's time trial last year despite not riding his usual bike," Endura team manager Brian Smith told Cycling Weekly.
"But there are some dangerous guys out there. Looking at the overall classification, I'd say (Movistar rider) Jonathan Castroviejo" - eighth overall at 53 seconds, the runner-up in the Spanish national time trial championshiops and the winner of the prologue of the Tour of Romandie last year - "is probably the most serious challenger."
Nor can Sammie Sanchez be ruled out of the fight for the overall, even if he is best known as a Classics racer and climber. In 2007 Sanchez won the final time trial of the Vuelta - around 20 kilometres long, a slightly longer distance - and the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider has always finished well up in the time trials of the Vuelta al País Vasco, his home race, too.
When it comes to beating far better known riders this season, though, so far Tiernan-Locke has more than risen to the challenge - and Sunday could see the Briton do the same again.
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