Australia’s Simon Gerrans of the Orica-GreenEdge team won the third stage of the Tour de France on Monday in a sprint finish at the end of the 145km ride from Ajaccio to Calvi on Corsica.
Gerrans edged out Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, last year’s green jersey winner, in a photo finish, with Spain’s Jose Joaquin Rojas just behind in third.
Belgium’s Jan Bakelants, winner of the second stage, held on to the overall race leader’s yellow jersey by a 1 second margin after coming in as part of the peloton in 19th place.
Meanwhile, Sagan’s second place allows him to take the green jersey for the best sprinter from Marcel Kittel, the German who won the opening stage of the race in Bastia on Saturday.
Gerrans’ victory is his second in the Tour, with his previous stage win dating back to 2008.
His is the first win for an Australian in the race since Cadel Evans won the fourth stage en route to taking the yellow jersey in 2011.
“The stage went perfectly for me. It was fantastic,” said Gerrans, who has won stages in all three Grand Tours and also won last year’s Milan-San Remo.
“It was like riding one of the Ardennes Classics. We spent the entire day going up or down. I wasn’t sure if I had won because it was so tight on the line. It was like a drag race between me and Peter at the end,” he added.
The defeat on the line would have been hard to take for Sagan, who also had to settle for second place in Sunday’s stage in Ajaccio behind Bakelants, but pulling on the green jersey will serve as a welcome consolation.
“I am a little disappointed not to have won the stage, but our objective as a team is to win the green jersey and we have got off to a good start,” said the Slovak from Cannondale Pro Cycling.
For Bakelants, who is supposed to be a support rider for Radioshack-Leopard team leader Andy Schleck, there was quiet satisfaction at retaining yellow, but that was coupled with the sobering realization that he is unlikely to keep it for much longer.
“Probably tomorrow I will lose the yellow jersey. It will be painful, but I have to think about the nice days I’ve had in it,” he said.
Gerrans’ stage triumph comes as a welcome piece of good publicity for his Orica-GreenEdge team, who were caught at the center of controversy on Saturday when their bus became stuck under a gantry at the first-stage finish line.
It was a good day all round for the team, with Simon Clarke featuring in a group of five riders who broke away from the peloton early and going on to reach the summit in each of the first three categorized climbs of the day.
It was a short, but tricky stage, with the route up Corsica’s west coast featuring practically no flat sections and a total of four climbs, most notably the category 2 ascent of the Col de Marsolino just 13.5km from the finish in Calvi.
That climb saw the peloton catch the five-man breakaway, which had been led by Dutchman Lieuwe Westra.
Apart from the break, it was a largely uneventful ride for the most part, albeit amid some spectacular scenery.
Not that many of the 198 riders would have been able to take in the views of the surrounding sea and mountains, least of all Geraint Thomas, of Sky Pro Cycling.
It transpired early in the day that the two-time Olympic gold medalist had been diagnosed with a small pelvis fracture, which he suffered while falling in a mass crash in Saturday’s first stage, although initial examinations failed to spot the problem.
A grimacing Thomas battled his way through the day’s ride, which was more than could be said for Kazakh rider Andrey Kashechkin of Astana or Frenchman Yoann Bagot of Cofidis, who became the first two riders to abandon this year’s Tour.
The Corsican section of the 100th Tour is now over and the riders were due to depart for the French mainland later on Monday, ahead of a short team time trial in Nice yesterday.