Dutch rider Tom Jelte Slagter won the third stage of the Tour Down Under with a powerful uphill sprint while Britain's Geraint Thomas retained his position as overall leader on Thursday. Slagter, from Team Blanco, moved to within five seconds of Thomas in the general classification after he led home Australian Matthew Goss (Orica GreenEDGE) and world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) in the sprint to the line. Thomas came in fourth, just missing out on gaining bonus seconds for taking a spot in the top three.
"It's really amazing that I can beat them," Slagter said of finishing ahead of Goss, Gilbert and Thomas in his first professional win. "The only thing I knew was that I was (feeling) good and tried to get the best result. "David Tanner my teammate pulled the sprint the perfect way and I just had to go."
The thrilling end to the race was a fitting climax to a fascinating day, which started in Unley in inner-city Adelaide and finished 139 kilometers (86.4 miles) later in the picturesque town of Stirling, nestled in the Adelaide Hills. On the hottest day of the tour so far, with temperatures reaching as high as 38 degrees Celsius, Australian duo Simon Clarke (Orica GreenEDGE) and Will Clarke (Team Argos-Shimana) made the first attacking move when they broke clear after 10 kilometers and steadily rode away from the peloton.
The two Clarkes (not related) were riding well together and took a lead of almost three and half minutes during the stage, which included six 21.4-kilometer (13.3-mile) laps in the countryside around Stirling. But at the 90-kilometer mark, the peloton began a series of attacks to close the gap. A leading group of eight then opened a 30-second gap though the peloton, controlled largely by Thomas's Sky Pro Cycling team, maintained contact and with five kilometers left the race was together again. Portuguese rider Tiago Machado then tried his luck and went 300 metres clear, but couldn't sustain the pace and was brought back with 1.5 kilometers to go, setting up a sprint finish. Tanner brought Slagter forward and when the Dutchman decided to go for home, none of the others were able to go with him. Thomas said his teammates had done everything asked of them.
"The boys were strong and we were always in control, but we definitely got tested today," he said. "It was down to me to try and get on the podium and get some bonus seconds – it didn't quite happen but we've still got the (ochre leader's) jersey and that's the main thing."
The Welshman was confident of retaining the lead in Friday's 126.5-kilometre (78.5-mile) fourth stage from Modbury to Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, and said the race would probably come down to Saturday's penultimate stage, which includes two climbs up the infamous Old Willunga Hill.
"Tomorrow should be a bunch sprint I would have thought, so it will all come down to Willunga and the big test up there," Thomas said.
Tour Down Under Stage 3
1. Tom Jelte Slagter (NED/BLA) 3:36:46
2. Matthew Goss (AUS/OGE) s.t.
3. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/BMC)
4. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY)
5. Giovanni Visconti (ITA/MOV)
6. Javier Moreno (ESP/MOV)
7. Simone Ponzi (ITA/AST)
8. Daniele Pietropolli (ITA/LAM)
9. Ivan Santaromita (ITA/BMC)
10. Gorka Izagirre (ESP/EUS)
General Classification After Stage 3
1. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 9:56:17
2. Tom Jelte Slagter (NED/BLA) @ .05
3. Javier Moreno (ESP/MOV) @ .06
4. Ben Hermans (BEL/RLT) @ .08
5. Daniele Pietropolli (ITA/LAM) @ 15
6. Jon Izagirre (ESP/EUS) s.t.
7. Gorka Izagirre (ESP/EUS)
8. George Bennett (NZL/RLT)
9. Jack Bauer (NZL/GRS)
10. Wilco Kelderman (NED/BLA)