After Dylan Groenewegen’s (Lotto Nl-Jumbo) success yesterday on Stage 2 of Paris-Nice 2018, today was a day for the punchier riders.
It was Tour du Haut Var winner Jonathan Hivert of Direct Energie who took the days honours. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) took second place to lift the yellow jersey from Groupama-FDJ’s Arnaud Démare.
Stage three began very much like the one by which it was preceded. It was a sunny morning on Tuesday, March 6 with some cloudy intervals. There was little wind to bother the peloton but some mild gusts were coming from the South West. At 10°C, it wouldn’t have felt too cold on the start line.
After 5.7 kilometres of neutralised start, the racing was underway across exposed, pan-flat roads with little vegetation for protection. That didn’t stop a group of three attacking from the word go, however.
It was Jay Robert Thomson of Dimension Data who made the first move, bringing Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz (Delko Marseille) and Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie) along with him. There was no glass-cranking from these three as they put on a significant pace to create a gap of up to 7’45 between themselves and the chasers. They benefited a little from the added protection found after kilometre 30 and maintained their steady lead of more than seven minutes on the main group.
The lead remained for some time as the peloton passed through Saint-Amand-Montrond, the hometown of Quickstep Floor’s Julian Alaphilippe. It was Groupama-FDJ who began the chase on Stage 3, with a little support from Ag2r but they struggled to make any headway despite a huge turn on the front from the Lithuanian National Champion, Ignatas Konovalovas.
Jay Robert THOMSON (Dimension Data), the original breakaway leader, took the first intermediate sprint to earn himself three points and three bonus seconds. He was followed by his breakaway colleagues Przemyslaw KASPERKIEWICZ (Delko Marseille) and Fabien GRELLIER (Direct Energie) who took two points (+two-seconds) and one point(+one-second) bonuses respectively.
Phil Bauhaus (Team Sunweb) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) abandoned in the feed zone just before the peloton passed through Commentry, where Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) won a memorable stage of the 2016 edition of the race.
Elsewhere, it was a tough day for Alexander Kristoff (UAE), Jesus Herrada (Cofidis), Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) and Sven Erik Bystrøm(UAE) who all seemed to suffer from gastric problems.
Just before the breakaway passed the halfway point, after close to 90 kilometres of racing, Lotto-Soudal moved to the front to assist Groupama-FDJ with the chase. They worked together to narrow the leaders’ advantage to around five minutes.
The racing livened-up on the ascent of the first categorised climb of the day. It was Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie) who showed he had clear intentions for the day. He achieved maximum points on the first categorised climb while Przemyslaw KASPERKIEWICZ (Delko Marseille) and Jay Robert THOMSON (Dimension Data) shared the remaining points between.
Grellier decided it was his time at the foot of the second climb and launched a solo attack. He went on to take top points but with a little under 70 kilometres of racing remaining, his chances for success were slim at best.
The final category 3 climb of the day, was billed at a 4.7% average gradient over 4.6 kilometres, while it was rather a 13km grind at an average gradient of 3.3% along with 2 kilometres of false flat.
The duo of chasers was caught when Lotto-Soudal took to the front of the peloton with Thomas De Gendt putting in a good turn of pace on the front, as much as could be expected from the man who spent 1,280 kilometres in breakaways during the 2017 Tour de France.
Grellier fought valiantly to stay away until just before the final circuit began but he was both caught by and dropped from the peloton as the bell rang for the final lap.
The race exploded on the final ascent of the day, where attacks came thick and fast. Julian Alaphillipe (Quickstep) was off the front looking positively relaxed while Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) struggled to hold his wheel. The duo was joined by Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and they took the final summit in that order.
The trio were soon joined by the chasing group and it was here Rémy Di Gregorio (Delko-Marseille) launched his first attack. He was quickly followed by Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Jonathan Hivert (Direct Energie). This would be the final attack to stick on Stage 3 of Paris-Nice 2018 as they took advantage of a peloton that had no interest in working together.
Both Di Gregorio and Hivert sat on Leon Sanchez’s wheel for the remaining six kilometres which were a real test of nerve. Di Gregorio knew that Hivert had the most explosive sprint of the group and tried to create some daylight between himself and the duo but did not have legs to carry him to the line. Hivert stuck to Sanchez’s wheel as long as possible before launching his final attack to take the win. Despit Démare’s efforts to retain the yellow jersey, Luis Leon Sanchez’s second place provided him with enough time to take the general classification leadership after stage 3.
Paris Nice Stage 3 Results
1 – Jonathan Hivert – Direct Energie
2 – Luis Leon Sanchez – Astana
3 – Rémi Di Grégorio – Delko Marseille Provence KTM
4 – Arnaud Demare – Groupama FDJ +38″
5 – Mike Teunissen – Sunweb
6 – Andre Greipel – Lotto Soudal
7 – Magnus Cort Nielsen – Astana
8 – Matteo Trentin – Mitchelton Scott
9 – Julian Alaphilippe – Quick Step Floors
10 – Felix Grossschartner – Bora Hansgrohe
General Classification after Stage 3
1 – Luis Leon Sanchez – Astana – 13h21’55
2 – Arnaud Demare – Groupama-FDJ + 29″
3 – Gorka Izagirre Insausti – Team Bahrain Merida + 36″
4 – Julian Alaphilippe – Quickstep Floors + 39″
5 – Mike Teunissen – Team Sunweb + 42″
6 – Tim Wellens – Lotto-Soudal
7 – Roman Kreuziger – Mitchelton-Scott
8 – Heinrich Haussler – Team Bahrain Merida + 44″
9 – Felix Grossschartner – Bora-Hansgrohe
10 – Jon Izagirre Insausti – Team Bahain Merida