Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov won the 166.1 km third stage of the Tour de Romandie from Thierrens to the western Swiss town of Neuchatel on Friday in a closely fought sprint finish. Frenchman Mikael Cherel, of AG2R, was second after nearly being squeezed into the barriers in the run to the finish line, where he was followed by HTC-Highroad's Tony Martin of Germany. Team Katusha's Russian contender Pavel Brutt retained the race leader's yellow jersey with a 32sec lead on Kazakh Vinokourov, who edged ahead of race rival Damiano Cunego.
Following the pattern of the previous stages, four riders broke away early in the race only to be reeled in during the final climb, splitting the main peloton. Cherel was furious after coming over the finish, his bid being scuppered by Vinokourov as the Kazakh powered through to the line, dashing the Frenchman and Martin's bid to beat the sprinters with a breakaway three kilometers out.
"Cherel took the risk of going to the left, he could have gone elsewhere, the road was wide," Vinokourov said afterwards, confirming his intention to claim the overall victory. "It's my first Tour of Romandie I like the race, winning it would be the icing on the cake. If I have good legs tomorrow, I'll have to try hard but Tony Martin doesn't look bad," he added.
Martin has finished runner-up to world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland on several occasions, and will be the man to beat in Saturday's 20.1 km time trial between Aubonne and Signal de Bougy. The race concludes Sunday with a traditional flat stage into Geneva.