Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco) won stage 3 of the Santos Tour Down Under on Thursday, topping Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) in Stirling, Australia.
“It’s incredible. I can’t believe it,” said Slagter. “I thought they were coming, but I was strongest. It’s incredible.”
Slagter jumped into the uphill sprint early, on the heels of a big pull from teammate David Tanner that strung the bunch out inside 800 meters to go. Gilbert appeared set to come over the top of the Dutchman, but it was Goss who came closest, crossing the line just short on Slagter’s rear wheel.
“Tanner was incredible. He told me he would drop me in the last few hundred meters and he did it perfectly,” said Slagter. “We win here and it’s for the whole team.”
The win was the first for the Blanco team in 2013 after previous sponsor Rabobank removed its name from its jerseys in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping affair.
Geraint Thomas (Sky) retained the overall lead. Slagter vaulted to second overall with his 10-second winner’s bonus and sits five seconds behind Thomas with three stages remaining.
U.S. champion Timmy Duggan (Saxo-Tinkoff) left the race after crashing.
“Timmy went down in a roundabout about 2km to go on the circuit. We don’t know what happened, if he hit a curb or perhaps crossed a tire. He was conscious and the doctors were helping immediately,” said Saxo director Fabrizio Guidi. “He was banged up, grabbing his shoulder. We do not know now. He has been taken to the hospital.”
The thrilling end to the race was a fitting climax to a fascinating day, which started in inner-city Unley and finished in the picturesque town of Stirling, nestled in the Adelaide Hills.
On the hottest day of the tour so far, with temperatures reaching as high as 38 degrees Celsius, Australian duo Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) and Will Clarke (Argos-Shimana) made the first attacking move when they broke clear after 10km and steadily rode away from the peloton.
The two Clarkes (not related) were riding well together and took a lead of almost 3:30 during the stage, which included six 21.4km laps in the countryside around Stirling.
But at the 90km mark, the peloton began a series of attacks to close the gap.
A chase group of eight opened a 30-second gap on the peloton, controlled largely by Sky, which maintained contact and with five kilometers left the race was together again.
Last year’s third-place finisher Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Leopard) then tried his luck and went 300 meters clear, but couldn’t sustain the pace and was brought back with 1.5km to go, setting up a sprint finish.
Tanner brought Slagter forward and when the Dutchman decided to go for home, none of the others were able to go with him.
Thomas said his teammates had done everything asked of them.
“The boys were strong and we were always in control, but we definitely got tested today,” he said. “It was down to me to try and get on the podium and get some bonus seconds — it didn’t quite happen, but we’ve still got the jersey and that’s the main thing.”
The Welshman was confident of retaining the lead in Friday’s 126.5km fourth stage from Modbury to Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, and said the race would probably come down to Saturday’s penultimate stage, which includes two climbs up the infamous Old Willunga Hill.
“Tomorrow should be a bunch sprint I would have thought, so it will all come down to Willunga and the big test up there,” Thomas said.
The Santos Tour Down Under continues Friday.