Joaquim Rodríguez won stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya Wednesday atop the La Molina climb in northeast Spain, vaulting into the overall lead. Rodríguez (Katusha) attacked late on the finish climb to win the 162-kilometer leg from Banyoles.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was second, at five seconds, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and third, at nine seconds. American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) was fourth.
Overnight leader Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) ceded the jersey he’d held for two days.
“Everything went fine the entire day,” said Rodríguez. “I spoke with my teammates and begged them to keep control of the break and they did a perfect job. At 2K from the finish, Dani Moreno did the last effort that was important to make our group smaller and smaller. When Froome attacked, I saw that he missed the power to win. When he sat down in the saddle again, I attacked. The last kilometer was marvelous.”
Movistar pushed the pace in the peloton over the opening half of the 12km finishing climb, catching the final of the day’s escapees in the final 5km. With 3km to go, roughly 25 riders comprised the lead group, with all the major players present.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) countered an acceleration from Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and went solo with 2km to go. The Dane looked over his left shoulder, but saw little reaction from the peloton.
The status quo wouldn’t last long, however. Fuglsang’s bid ended at the 1km kite and the big hitters quickly showed themselves. Chris Froome (Sky) attacked, drawing out Rodríguez, Contador, and Quintana. Rodríguez countered, leaving the other three behind.
Contador wasn’t able to draw his countryman back before the finish, leading Quintana across the line by five seconds.
“It has been a day complicated by the cold”, Contador said through his press officer.
“The important thing now is to recover as best as possible for tomorrow, which is harder. Today was a matter of control the attacks and the truth is that ‘Purito’ has an incredible spark and I could not hold him in the final sprint”.
Froome faded to finish fifth behind van Garderen.
“I’ve come back after a long period of racing and I was really happy with today. Okay I didn’t win the stage and I lost a bit of time in the final, but all things considered I’m really happy with my condition,” Froome said via his team’s website. “Especially after taking a little bit of a break with my back problem, it’s a really positive sign for me to be at the front of the race again.
“We came into the last 500 meters and it had been quite fast until then. It wasn’t a very steep finish but it was more explosive. I thought, ‘If I’m going to try anything, it might as well be here.’ I gave it a little push but the main contenders — Rodriguez, Contador, Quintana and Tejay — all followed my wheel and accelerated past me.”
The Volta a Catalunya continues Thursday with the 166km fourth leg, from Alp to the hors categorie Vallter 2000-Setcases finish climb, which takes in five categorized climbs.
Paris-Nice winner Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) is suffering from “a general infectious syndrome with fever requiring antibiotic treatment” and rest, according to the team.