Pello Bilbao settled a score with Simon Yates when he outsprinted the Briton to win stage three of the Tour Down Under, which Jay Vine now leads.
The trio animated the business end of the 116.8km race from Norwood to Campbelltown in which overnight leader Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma) came unstuck.
Vine (UAE Emirates) was the first to attack on the decisive Corkscrew climb with some 6.5km remaining as the peloton began to split.
Yates (Jayco Alula) was quick to follow the Australian and the pair got a gap before Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) successfully bridged across with about 5.7km remaining.
The trio worked together on the descent and flat run into the finish before Vine again showed his nerve.
The 27-year-old in what is his Tour Down Under debut accelerated with one kilometre remaining, but the move didn’t stick. Bilbao then counterattacked, holding off Yates to claim Bahrain Victorious’ second stage victory of the race and avenge his loss to Yateson stage 12 of the 2019 Tour de France to Bagneres-de-Bigorre.
“We did speak about the scenario that if we got to the finish with Simon Yates, he’s a hard rival to beat, but Pello worked out the sprint pretty well,” sports director Neil Stephens said.
“He mentioned to me this morning that Simon had beaten him in a stage win in the Tour de France, so he wasn’t looking forward to a one-on-one with him but today we got the upper hand.”
Yates was disappointed post-race, admitting he wanted to win the stage.
"I knew Bilbao was faster in the final. I tried to light him up but I just didn’t have the gas to get around him," he said.
Vine now has a 15 second advantage on Bilbao on general classification, with Yates 16 seconds adrift of the race leader.
The calculated climber has enjoyed an incredible series of firsts already this season with UAE Emirates, which he transferred to at the end of the last season in a deal he says he can’t discuss because of a non-disclosure agreement.
Vine won the national time trial championships in his first race appearance earlier this month and perfectly executed his plan on Friday despite losing race radio toward the end.
“I had no time gaps,” said Vine. “Our radios didn’t quite reach over the top of the Corkscrew climb, so it was full gas to the finish. I’d seen quite a few times when the race has finished downhill into Campbelltown big groups can come back and there was a massive group behind us so it was push all the way to the line to make sure we can get a time buffer because anything can happen in bike racing.”
Yates’ teammate Michael Matthews recovered from the disappointment of stage two, in which he fell out of overall contention, to win the bunch sprint behind the lead group and assume the points jersey from Caleb Ewan, who is racing for the composite UniSA Australia team here.
“It was basically back to the plan that we had from the start of the week, to have Yatesy attacking on the climb and me waiting for the sprint with the bunch behind. Same plan as we originally had,” Matthews said.
Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) retained the white jersey and is fourth on general classification, 45 seconds in arrears of Vine.
Dennis had a gear problem earlier in the race and was forced to change bikes at Checker Hill, the penultimate climb. He was spotted at the back of the peloton with about 20km remaining and failed to recover ground from there, finishing the stage one minute and 24 seconds behind Bilbao.
"I only really got back onto the peloton when it got steep and that's when they started to go full-gas,” he said.
"It wouldn't have mattered if I was second wheel on the steepest part of Corkscrew, I wouldn't have been at the front with the guys at the finish.”
Vine may be relatively new to the WorldTour, having got his start through the Zwift Academy, and new to his team, but he appears to have assimilated quickly and is confident in his own ability and that of teammates with two stages of the tour remaining.
“If they gave me another three more Corkscrews it would have been fine but there’s a lot of road between here and Sunday evening so I’m going to definitely be conservative,” he said.
“The team is really, really strong. I think we’ve got the team to be able to help me do that.
“Some of the greatest Australian cyclists have worn the jersey and one of my favourite riders Richie Porte he has won this race twice. It’s pretty special to be able to put the jersey on and hopefully take it home on Sunday night.”
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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, broadcaster and author of Pain & Privilege: Inside Le Tour. She follows the WorldTour circuit, working for British, Australian and US press, and has covered 10 Tours de France.
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