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Having launched what looked like a suicide solo attack with 13km to go, Aru held off the chasing peloton by 2 seconds to win stage 3 of the Criterium du Dauphiné; Kristoff won the sprint for second and Contador retained the lead

Photo: A.S.O.

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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CRITERIUM DU DAUPHINE

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NICCOLÓ BONIFAZIO

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08.06.2016 @ 17:26 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Fabio Aru (Astana) did what most thought would be impossible when he successfully completed a marvelous solo attack on stage 3 of the Criterium du Dauphiné. Having launched what looked like a suicidal solo move with 13km to go, he held off the chasing peloton by two seconds to take his first win of the year, with a frustrated Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) beating Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek) in the sprint for second. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) survived a late mechanical and retained the lead.

 

The start to the Criterium du Dauphiné has been a frustrating one for Fabio Aru. The Italian was the biggest loser in the mountain prologue where he lost 1.08 to Alberto Contador and when he lost another 21 seconds in yesterday’s first uphill finish, it looked like it would be a race to forget for the Astana leader.

 

However, Aru is known as a great fighter who always refuses to give up and he put those great mental skills to good use in today’s third stage of the race. While some had expected him to try to bounce back in the mountains in the weekend, few would have expected him to shine in a sprint stage but that’s what he did when he won on the relatively flat course.

 

Lots of cycling fans were probably shaking their heads when the Astana captain attacked from an 8-rider break with 13km to go. At that point, he had used a late climb to get clear as part of the octet but as almost all the sprinters had survived the ascent and Trek, Katusha and Bora-Argon 18 were all chasing hard, it looked like a suicidal move. At least his companions thought so as they all sat up to wait for the bunch.

 

Aru probably started his mission to get a proper workout before the Tour de France but as he still had a 10-second gap when he finished the descent with 4km to go, he probably started to believe in his chances. The sprint teams were running out of gas and so he managed to push the advantage out to 15 seconds. When the sprint was launched, he lost some ground  but he had two seconds to spare when he sat up to celebrate the most unexpected win of his career.

 

After a hard chase behind a strong breakaway, the peloton was back together when they hit the very steep Cote de Secheras which summited just 21km from the finish. The sprinters believed in their chances as they had worked to bring the break back but it was Tinkoff who led the group onto the climb with Michael Gogl.

 

Bora-Argon 18 did the early pace-setting with Bartosz Huzarski and he made the peloton explode completely. However, the pace was not too fast and a confident Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was riding near the front. He even asked his teammate Geoffrey Soupe to start the chase when Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) launched the first attack and quickly got a gap.

 

Pierre Rolland (Cannondale) and Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida) gave chase before Soupe was passed by Paolo Tiralongo. Astana wanted a hard race and so the Italian did a great job to whittle the peloton further down. Sondre Holst Enger (IAM) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) were among the riders to lose contact.

 

Martin had opened a 17-second advantage over the peloton and a gap of 10 seconds to the chasers when Aru made his move one kilometre from the top. He quickly joined Rolland and Grmay while the peloton came to a standstill.

 

Jurgen Van den Broeck (Katusha) used the small lull to make an attack but when Mikel Landa (Sky) joined him, it became too dangerous for Tinkoff. Robert Kiserlovski brought the two attackers back and started to ride tempo on the front.

 

Martin reached the top as the lone leader 10 seconds before Aru led Rolland and Grmay over the summit. Race leader Alberto Contador and Richie Porte (BMC) accelerated over the top but it was no real attack

 

With 20km to go, Martin had an advantage of 10 seconds over his chasers and 20 seconds over the peloton which was led by Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff). He didn’t respond when Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Steve Morabito (FDJ) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) took off and they immediately joined the chasers.

 

Sanchez went straight past the group before Mikel Landa (Sky) and Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal) also made the junction. He quickly got Martin but they decided to wait for the chasers. Hence, an 8-rider group was formed with a 20-second gap over the peloton that was led by the Tinkoff trio of Kiserlovski, Kreuziger and Jesper Hansen.

 

Alexander Kristoff had survived the climb and so Jurgen Van den Broeck and Alberto Losada started to chase for Katusha. Sam Bennett had also made it and so his Bora-Argon 18 teammate Dominik Nerz lent a hand.

 

With 15km to go, the gap was frozen at 10 seconds but the chase was getting more organized. Also Angel Vicioso (Katusha) came to the fore as did Haimar Zubeldia (Trek).

 

Aru attacked his companions on the descent and as the rest of the group gave up, he quickly got an advantage. The chasers were all brought back and so the Italian was the only rider still in front.

 

With 10km to go, Aru was just 10 seconds ahead of the peloton and it was now Etixx-QuickStep leading the chase. The Belgian team soon disappeared and left it to Katusha to continue the chase with Van den Broeck.

 

While Aru maintained a 5-second advantage on the descent, Tony Martin hit the deck but the German appeared to be unhurt. Van den Broeck was still doing all the work while Astana did their best to disrupt the chase.

 

Aru hit the flat roads with a 10-second advantage while Contador worked hard to get back to the front after a mechanical. With 2km to go, the gap had even gone out to 15 seconds and it didn’t come down when Ag2r hit the front with Jan Bakelants. The Belgian traded pulls with Losada before Orica-GreenEDGE took over with Jens Keukeleire and Simon Gerrans who wanted to prepare the sprint for Daryl Impey.

 

Aru passed the flamme rouge with a 15-second advantage and this prompted Giant-Alpecin to come to the fore. The German team started their lead-out for John Degenkolb before Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) launched a long sprint.

 

However, it was all too late and Aru had plenty of time to celebrate his win. A frustrated Alexander Kristoff beat Niccolo Bonifazio in the sprint for second two seconds later.

 

Contador managed to rejoin the field after his mechanical and so retained hi leader’s jersey with a six-second advantage over Richie Porte (BMC). He should have his final easier day in tomorrow’s fourth stage which only has two category 4 climbs in the first half. The stage ends with one lap of a lumpy 32km circuit around Belley but the sprinters are expected to get their final chance before the race heads into the mountains.

 

A tricky finale

After yesterday’s uphill finish, the peloton was back in flatter terrain for stage 3 which brought them over 187.5km from Boën-sur-Lignon to Tournon-sur-Rhone. After a flat start, the riders faced a long, gradual uphill section that culminated with two category 4 climbs in the middle section. Then a long descent led to the main challenge, the category 2 Cote de Secheras which averaged 8.2% over 2.9km and included one kilometre with a gradient of more than 13%. The top was located 21km from the finish and was followed by a lumpy section, a technical descent and five kilometres of flat roads in the end.

 

Yury Trofimov (Tinkoff), Mitchell Docker (Orica-GreenEdge) and Steven Lammertink (LottoNL-Jumbo) were all at the hotel this morning while the rest of the field rolled out for the the longest stage in beautiful sunny weather. Right from the start, Niki Terpstra (Team Quick Step), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Dimitri Claeys (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) attacked and they quickly built up an advantage of 25 seconds after 3.5km of racing.

 

A big gap

LottoNL-Jumbo and Ag2r had missed the break so together with Tinkoff they chased hard. In several kilometers, the gap stayed around 30 seconds, but when Ag2r and Tinkoff gave up and left the work to LottoNL-Jumbo, the balance tipped. After 15km of racing, the gap was 50 seconds, and when it was more than a minute, the Dutchmen also surrendered.

 

Tinkoff took control of the peloton, but allowed the gap to grow rapidly. After 27km of racing, it was already 5.30, and as it had reached 6 minutes, Giant-Alpecin took over, hoping to get a sprint victory with John Degenkolb. Also BMC lent them a hand, knowing that the stage suited Greg Van Avermaet excellent, and so the gap stabilized.

 

The chase gets organized

BMC quickly disappeared from the front, but instead Katusha came to the fore with a single rider. Together with one from Giant-Alpecin and three from LottoNL-Jumbo, he brought the gap down to 5.25 after a fast first hour during which 46km had been covered.

 

At the 50km mark, the gap was already down to 4.45 and continued to drop steadily. When Cofidis came forward to help with the chase, it was 3.40, and with 105km to go there was only 2.35 left of the advantage. At the same time, the paced dropped significantly as the riders only covered 39.2km during the second hour.

 

Gautier and Quemeneur take off

While Katusha, Cofidis Giant-Alpecin and LottoNL-Jumbo were in charge of the chase, the gap stabilized around 2.30, and when Terpstra won the first KOM sprint, the peloton reached the top 2.20 later. However, the monotony was broken shortly after the feed zone where Cyril Gautier (Ag2r) and Perrig Quéméneur (Direct Energie) attacked. While Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) had to stop sue to a mechnical, the French duo managed to reduce the gap to just 1.10 as they hit the last 75km.

 

At the bottom of the final climb, the gap was only 40 seconds and they made the junction shortly before De Gendt won the KOM sprint. The peloton reached the top just 1.25 later after a third hour during which 39.8km had been covered.

 

Terpstra attacks

Terpstra went all out on the descent, and after Quemeneur of Claeys had lost contact, the Dutchman attacked. He quickly got a lead of 7 seconds over Gautier and De Gendt while Claeys dropped Quemeneur and still fought hard to get back.

 

Claeys rejoined De Gendt and Gautier when the gap had gone out to 18 seconds and the trio slowly made it back to the Dutchman when less than 50km remained. At this point, Quemeneur was 28 seconds behind and the peloton was at 1.50.

 

The gap melts away

The peloton knew that it was a strong break and so Carter Jones (Giant-Alpecin), Alexey Vermeulen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis) and Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha) were chasing extremely hard. With 40km to go, the gap was down to 1.35 and it had dropped to 50 seconds just four kilometres later. Meanwhile, Quemeneur was bought back.

 

The peloton was going full gas as Jones, Vermeulen, Vanbilsen Guarnieri emptied themselves and so the gap was down to just 15 seconds with 30km to go. That’s when the chase ended as the fight for position got really intense and it was Movistar who hit the front with Francisco Ventoso. Cannondale lined up next to them with Dylan van Baarle leading the green train.

 

The break is caught

Bora-Argon 18 hit the front with Bartosz Huzarski and he brought the break back with 26km to go. Jeremy Roy took a huge turn for FDJ but he had to drop back to find team captain Thibaut Pinot in the hectic fight for position.

 

Huzarski took a final turn before Terpstra dropped Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) off near the front. However, it was Tinkoff that won the battle with Michael Valgren and Michael Gogl and the latter led the peloton onto the climb where the race really came to life.

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