Known for his unsuccessful attacks, Niki Terpstra finally scored in front of the football stadium of Saint-Etienne on Tuesday. The Dutchman outsprinted his four breakaway companions to win the Dauphine Libéré's 182-kilometre third stage and took the yellow jersey from the shoulders of Cadel Evans on the eve of a crucial 42.4km individual time trial.
"I've tried to win a race by breaking away so many times, it's a relief to finally make it," said the 25-year-old Terpstra. "I can't say it's a dream come true but for sure this is the best win of my career so far. It's also my first win for Team Milram. I've worked really hard for this. I'd prefer to win a big classic but this is really big for me."
"I wasn't thinking of the victory," continued Terpstra. "I was riding at the front of the group for the last five kilometres because I wanted the yellow jersey. I didn't evaluate the strength of my adversaries for the sprint. I saw the AG2r rider [Ludovic Turpin] was a good climber and the Euskaltel [Iñigo Landaluze] was strong but only with 300 metres to go did I realize there was a possibility to win the stage as well."
"I've tried to win a race by breaking away so many times, it's a relief to finally make it."
Terpstra obviously didn't know that Turpin won a mountain stage of the Dauphiné including the Izoard three years ago before breaking a femur and suffering another big problem with his hip. This was the Frenchman's first appearance at the head of a big race since he returned to racing. The Dutchman also ignored the fact that Landaluze is no less than the winner of the 2005 Dauphiné overall.
Terpstra is confident that he'll keep the lead after the time trial in Valence on Wednesday. "For sure I'll defend this jersey." he said. "I definitely prefer short time trials than long ones but I hope the yellow jersey will give me an extra motivation for the long distance." Terpstra showed good form as he finished 13th in the opening time trial at the Dauphiné on Sunday and he considers his 21st place at the long time trial of last year's Tour de France as his best performance against the clock so far.
While overnight race leader Cadel Evans is now 1:01 behind the Dutchman entering tomorrow's time trial, the Silence-Lotto Aussie remains confident. "I'm not really in a fuss about it," said Evans after losing the lead. "We are two men down but my teammates did a very good job keeping the gap tight between us and the break. It's no big deal at all that I won't ride the time trial with the yellow jersey. It's all good for me at the Dauphiné so far and I'll stay focused until the end of the week."
How it unfolded
After 33 kilometres and many attacks, five riders - the same number as the day before - broke clear: Rémi Pauriol (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne), Ludovic Turpin (AG2R La Mondiale), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Yuriy Trofimov (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Niki Terpstra (Team Milram). Silence-Lotto, the team of race leader Cadel Evans, took the first positions at the head of the peloton but they also lost one more rider during the stage. After Mario Aerts wasn't able to start the opening time trial due to a fever, Staf Scheirlinckx was unable to finish stage three because of a sore knee.
During the first hour 48.2 kilometres were covered. The pace later slowed down but the maximum lead never went above six minutes, reached at km 100. The gap between the five breakaway riders and the bunch was still 5:45 with 50km to go. Pauriol was active in all the climbs and took the lead in the mountain price competition.
With 27km to go, the Française des Jeux team led by Matthieu Ladagnous took over from Silence-Lotto and BMC Racing at the head of the peloton. Soon the gap was reduced to 2:30 with only 25km to cover before reaching the football stadium of Saint-Etienne. However, Française des Jeux rode so fast that its sprinter Sébastien Chavanel was dropped, so they stopped working at the head of the peloton.
Lampre-NGC's Angelo Furlan, the previous day's winner, was also dropped and his team made an unsuccessful bid to pace him back to the peloton.
As none of the chasing teams were consistent in their action, the five-man break stayed away. Terpstra was the most motivated rider in the final five kilometres because he eyed the yellow jersey but he also found enough strength to outsprint Turpin at the finish line.