Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya on Wednesday in Vallter, Spain. Quintana attacked inside the final kilometer of the hors categorie finish climb to win solo ahead of teammate Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), second and third, respectively.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) was fourth.
“I’m really satisfied. I hoped for this victory to come since I started my season in Andalucía, and especially in Paris-Nice, where a crash avoided myself getting a better result and left me sad,” said Quintana. “This victory is a boost for my moral and confidence.”
Valverde assumed the overall lead ahead of Thursday’s 217km fourth stage, which features two HC climbs, including the finish climb at Port-Ainé.
“Tomorrow’s stage is going be a really, really hard one, more than today,” said Valverde. “We’ll be reaching heights over 2,000 meters above sea level again and the finish is steep, especially after a 217km stage. We’ll see how it all ends.”
Rodríguez sits second overall, six seconds adrift, with Wiggins third, at 10 seconds.
American Peter Stetina (Garmin-Sharp) finished on the same time as the GC favorites to vault into 10th overall, at 41 seconds.
Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) was the last survivor of the day’s long breakaway. The Frenchman finally lost contact with the front of the race when Marcos Garcia (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) attacked with 4.8km remaining on the 11km ascent to the finish. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) and fifth overall Robert Gesink (Blanco) neutralized the Spaniard and Van Den Broeck countered, pushing ahead alone inside 4km to go.
“The headwind into the final climb was the key: it was stupid to try and make a move because you would end up losing energy and not opening any gaps,” said Valverde. “Everyone was awaiting for the final kilometer and some time gaps were formed even though it was all played within such a short terrain.”
Tom Danielson (Garmin) pulled the chasers onto the Belgian’s wheel and roughly 20 riders were together at the front inside 3km remaining. Wiggins, who entered the stage eighth overall and tied on time with nine others, was there with two teammates in Rigerto Uran and David Lopez. Daniel Martin, tied with Wiggins and co., had Danielson and Stetina.
Wiggins opened the explosive finale, logging a fierce attack under the 1km to go banner. The 2012 Tour de France champion split the group, dropping everyone but the surest contenders.
“That was a proper bike race there at the end,” said Sky director Marcus Ljungqvist. “It was an instinctive attack and a great job from the boys. The plan of course was to keep Brad right up there and out of trouble on the climb.”
Quintana closed the gap and when Rodríguez jumped, Quintana quickly countered and rode away alone into the final switchback.
“There was a strong headwind at the top of the climb and our strategy was waiting for that very last moment to attack. The attack by Wiggins took the speed up and it was really good for us to know the climb, since we knew that the hardest point came at the end of it,” said Quintana. “I saw a good moment to attack and it was just when [Rodríguez] made his move, but I didn’t see him because I jumped earlier, as soon as I saw the turn where I had thought of attacking.”
Rodríguez tried to follow Quintana, but could not close the gap.
“I was slipstreaming Quintana, but in the end I could not follow him,” he said. “Anyway, I am satisfied, in stage like this it could have been worse; instead, I managed to gain something over other riders.”
The young Colombian had the win and Valverde, who entered the day with a four-second advantage on most of the GC contenders, jumped the chasers late to take the overall lead.
“I kept attention on [Rodríguez], because I knew he was going to give it a try, but Nairo was wise and anticipated his move,” said Valverde. “Even though we’re all on the limit in such stages, my legs were rather good. It was a perfect day for us with my leader jersey and Nairo’s victory. I’m as happy with him winning as if I had won the stage myself, because it’s his first this season, and I think it will be really important for him.”