BMC Racing's Tejay van Garderen took over the lead in the Volta a Catalunya on stage 3. The American held on to the tail end of the first chase group, finishing three seconds behind stage winner Alejandro Valverde.
In 2015, van Garderen won the La Molina stage in this race, but couldn't quite follow when Valverde attacked.
"I felt quite good all day even if I didn't have the punch to sprint with Valverde in the end, but I'm happy we kept the jersey in the team," van Garderen said.
Van Garderen looked ahead to Friday's stage to Tortosa - which finishes on a hors categorie climb that shoots up from sea level to 1000m of elevation in 22km - as a critical decider for the overall.
"Stage 5 is going to be the big day of the GC. We have a comfortable lead, but anything can happen on a climb like that."
The team unfortunately lost Rohan Dennis to a respiratory tract infection, leaving van Garderen without the service of the Tirreno-Adriatico runner-up.
Team doctor Daniele Zaccaria explained that Dennis had a chest infection before the race and held on for the team time trial. "Now, with the colder weather in the mountains it was better for him to stop racing as we look at the bigger picture and the upcoming Giro d'Italia," Zaccaria said.
Van Garderen's race lead comes thanks in part to the race jury's decision to dock Movistar one minute for rule violations in the stage 2 team time trial, a penalty that came after van Garderen and others protested what they felt was unfair assistance given by José Joaquín Rojas to his teammates Andrey Amador and Nelson Oliveira. Rojas was filmed 'touching' (according to Movistar) or 'pushing' (according to BMC) his teammates on the climb during the team time trial.
Immediately after the stage, Rojas was given the leader's jersey on the podium, but soon after, he was penalised and the jersey shifted to Valverde. Overnight, the results were overturned putting BMC in control, and Ben Hermans in the jersey.
"It was all up in the air until just before today's stage when we eventually got the jersey and subsequently the responsibility to control the race," van Garderen said. "This meant we had to adjust our strategy, but I think we handled this well and showed we are the stronger team."
"Yesterday there was a lot of commotion, and we put that behind us and got on with today's task."
But even putting Hermans in the race leader's jersey was contested by astute fans: Under the UCI rules, Brent Bookwalter should have been the race leader for a day because the rules should have considered only the stage 1 results, where Bookwalter finished just ahead of Ben Hermans.
"What a mess. @VoltaCatalunya and @UCI_cycling strike again. As a rider who rarely leads a race, much less at world tour. #disappointing," Bookwalter tweeted after the stage.
It was a moot point after the stage, however, as Bookwalter ended the day 22 minutes down.
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