The third day of racing at the Giro d'Italia may have belonged to Italian grand tour first-timer Luca Paolini (Katusha) who took a solo win into Marina di Ascea but it also provided an unexpected chance for the general contenders to show themselves. Amongst the elite finishing group was a sole Orica GreenEdge representative Pieter Weening, who had pinpointed the Giro as one of his major targets for the season.
The last time Weening attended the Giro was 2011 when he won Stage 5 into Orvieto after with the time gained at the finished, pulled on the maglia rosa as race leader. The win that day was in classic Weening fashion, grasping an opportunity and giving it everything for a final winning result.
Weening's Orica outfit is hoping the 32-year-old will be able to scalp a similar result again in this year's edition and he showed his intentions to deliver on that expectation on just the third day of racing. The team's sprinters Matt Goss and Leigh Howard were dispatched before the finish and left Weening free to do his thing.
"This was one of the days that Pieter had on his calendar," said sports director Neil Stephens. "It's one thing to make that group, and it's another for circumstances to align for a stage win. Pieter is an opportunist. For an opportunist to win, he needs to look for an opportunity. He's got to do what he did today - ride hard enough to make the group and seize any opportunity that he sees. The more times he puts himself in a position to win, the more chances he has.
"We knew we had to be well-placed heading into the first climb," added Stephens. "The workers of the team placed our key guys well. When the real action started on the second climb, that's when things got too difficult. As you saw by the reduced numbers at the finish, it was a difficult day. Only the most elite riders made it to the finish together."
When defending Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp) attacked on the final climb to Sella di Catona the main peloton exploded. The aggressive finale left just 16 riders in the chasing group that formed behind Paolini on the technical run into the finish and Weening was amongst the best of the GC contenders. The bunch that contained Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Cadel Evans (BMC), Vincenzo Nibali (Cannondale), Hesjedal, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Mauro Santambrogio were unable to catch the lone Italian with Weening finishing a credible seventh. It's a promising sign for the Dutchman who has been steadily building his form for the month of May.
"That was a hard descent," said Weening. "They raced full on toward the finish. The roads were really sketchy, and there were a few crashes. The roads here in Southern Italy can be slippery, so we have to be more careful in the corners than usual. I was lucky for the second day in a row to avoid crashing."
Weening will start Stage 4, the second-longest of the tour at 246km from Policastro to Serra San Bruno in 14th overall, 45-seconds down on the newest race leader Paolini.