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Critérium du Dauphiné 2014: Stage 3

Bonjour and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage three of the Criterium du Dauphine.

Bonjour and welcome to this early start for stage three. The riders have rolled out of Ambert and the first attack of the day has quickly  been allowed to get a gap.

A total of 167 riders are still in the race, with no non-starters today.

Chris Froome (Team Sky) wears the yellow leader's jersey after winning Sunday's opening time trial and Monday's first mountain finish.

Today's stage is over a distance of 194km. It includes some early hills but has a flat final hour. It should mean the sprinters enjoy a day in the headlines if they can control the break of the day.

The trio in the breakaway are Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Cesare Bendetti (NetApp-Endura) and Natnael Berhane (Europcar). The peloton seems happy to let them go as their lead is already close to four minutes.

It is another hot day across much of southern Europe and in the Alps. The riders face temperatures of up to 35C today.

We've already seen some explosive racing at the Dauphine this year as the likes of Froome, Contador and Nibali test their form and each other before the Tour de France.

If you missed yesterday's fireworks on the climb to the finish at Col du Béal, you can catch on all the action via our full stage report and photo gallery.

Click here.

169km remaining from 194km

The breakaway trio is on the early Côte de Lavet, a Cat 2 climb, with their gap now 4:00.

Natnael Berhane (Europcar) was the first to the top of the climb. He is in the break to take the climber's points and so help teammate Kevin Reza defend his lead in the climber's competition. 

Behind, Reza ensured he was fourth to the top of the climb and so picked up another seven points in the climber's competition.

That gives him 44 points. Arguably his biggest rival for the red and white polka-dot jersey is race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky), who is likely to score points on the mountain finishes and in the high mountains.

149km remaining from 194km

The race is now heading south-east to towards Valence and the Alps.

The rider are facing a hot side/head wind as they head south. With Froome leading the race, his Team Sky teammates are leading the steady chase of the breakaway.

A descent has helped the break extend their lead to over seven minutes.

Alberto Contador was the only rider able to stay with Chris Froome when he made his fifth and decisive attack yesterday on the climb.

The Spaniard insists he is not yet at his best but is already clearly Froome's biggest rival for the Tour de France.

Read what Contador told Cyclingnews after the stage here.

124km remaining from 194km

After 70km of racing, the FDJ.fr team is also helping with the chase of the break, riding to set up their sprinter Arnaud Demare.

The three breakaway riders are toiling under the sun, with temperatures above 30C, and the hilly roads making it had going. The riders covered 35.7km/h in the second hour of racing. 

The riders have finally reached the top of a long gradual climb to Recharginges and are at an altitude of over 1000m. They stay high for the next 40km before the descent and rolling roads to the Col de la Mure after 150km. Following the steep descent to the Rhone valley, the flat final 40km begin. 

That is when the sprinters' teams will begin their chase in earnest. 

Today's stage is expected to be a quiet affair for Chris Froome.

He spoke briefly about yesterday's attacks and today's racing before the start of the stage.

"I feel good. Obviously I was trying to get a bit of extra time over Contador but he’s shown that he’s in great form. There are some really challenging stages ahead. Today is the one day that looks like it’s going to be a bunch sprint but we’ve got some really tricky stages coming up."

"Having yellow is good for me but also for the team. It gives us practice for being put under pressure every day. It’s good for us as a team to be in that position." 

The climb and rolling roads has cut the lead of the break, with FDJ.fr making sure the trio will be in reach in the finale of the stage. The gap is now down to less than three minutes.

This stage is considered one for the sprinters but every rider will have to handle the constant climbing and heat today.

The break covered the third hour of the stage at an average of 28.8km/h. That's a clear indication on how it is out there today.

The three breakaway riders are working well together but peloton is refusing to let them open a big gap. The time difference is 2:50 now.

Two FDJ.fr riders continue to set the pace at the head of the peloton, with Team Sky lined out behind them, followed by Tinkoff-Saxo, protecting Alberto Contador.

The roads are twisting up and down the hills of the Ardeche region, offering some moments of shade but rarely a section of flat road.

The racing is taking its toll, with Jérôme Cousin retiring. The French rider crashed yesterday and has been struggling.

71km remaining from 194km

FDJ.fr's efforts are helping to peg back the escapees slowly and the gap has now dropped to 2:35. Meanwhile, the temperature contunues to rise. It's not 32 degrees out on the road.

68km remaining from 194km

Trek Factory Racing have also begun to contribute to the pace-setting at the head of the peloton. Their fast man Giacomo Nizzolo had a string of near misses at the Giro d'Italia but he clearly fancies his chances this afternoon.

62km remaining from 194km

A number of riders have gone down in a crash, including Giacomo Nizzolo, who stays on the ground holding his wrist and appears to be in some discomfort.

Nizzolo remains seated on the ground and it looks as though his race could be over. Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) was also caught up in the crash but he is successfully chasing back on to the main peloton.

57km remaining from 194km

The veteran Pierrick Fédrigo continues to force the pace on the front of the peloton in support of his FD.fr teammate Arnaud Démare. The break's lead is just above two minutes and very much under control.

Giacomo Nizzolo has climbed into the Trek Factory Racing team car and abandoned the Dauphiné. His teammate Jens Voigt, meanwhile, sits in second place in the peloton behind Fédrigo.

55km remaining from 194km

Chris Froome sits comfortably in 7th position, amid a line of Sky riders. His yellow jersey is unlikely to face any real threat this afternoon.

Jerome Coppel (Cofidis) has also abandoned the Dauphine, apparently as a result of the earlier crash.

The three escapees are now approaching the foot of the category 2 Col de la Mûre (3.8km at 6.3%). After a short, sharp descent, it's a flat and fast run-in to the finish at Le Teil.

49km remaining from 194km

Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) leads the break onto the lower slopes of the climb. Their lead is now just 1:43 but he is trying to breathe some life into the move.

48km remaining from 194km

FDJ.fr continue to set the tempo as the bunch hits the climb, with Yoann Offredo prominent along with Fedrigo. Arnaud Demare should have any problems in coping with this kind of gradient.

Thor Hushovd (BMC) and Jack Bobridge (Belkin) are among the riders at the back of the bunch on this climb, but it seems unlikely that FDJ.fr will be able to force a major selection here.

47km remaining from 194km

Blel Kadri has done the bulk of the work in the break on this climb, although Natnael Berhane seems the most comfortable of the trio.

Berhane, Kadri and Cesare Benedetti have limited the damage on the climb and they look set to cross the summit with 1:32 of their lead still intact.

45km remaining from 194km

Natnael Berhane takes the points atop the climb. His teammate Kevin Reza will retain the polka dot jersey tonight after his part in the break of the day yesterday.

Richie Porte (Team sky) is on the front of the peloton as the riders begin the gradual descent to the Rhone valley.

The breakaway trio has hit the flat road but only have a 55 second lead on the peloton.

The riders did not contest the intermediate sprint, with Benedetti crossing the line first.

With Nizzolo out following the crash and Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge) and Thor Hushovd (BMC) behind, Demare seems the absolute favourite for the sprint finish. 

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) is sitting at the back of the peloton, enjoying the slipstream effect of the other riders. The 2012 Giro d'Italia winner confirmed to Cyclingnews at the start that he will miss this year's Tour de France and instead target the Vuelta a Espana.

Read his comments here.

28km remaining from 194km

The gap is down to 40 seconds but the peloton is controlling the breakaway as the race rolls alongside the Rhone river.

The gap is down to 30 seconds and the cars have been pulled out from behind the break. Their time is up and the trio has eased up. 

The break had been away for a tough 170km in the hills.

20km remaining from 194km

The bar is about to close for the riders, with the 20km limit on taking bottles from team cars about to be imposed.

After a slight pause, we have an attack, with seven riders trying to get away.

There are several groups up the road now, with a possible ten riders about to come together.

In the move are Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol) and Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing). They know how to make an attack work.

Due to the heat of the day, race judges have ruled that teams can take bottles from team cars until 11km to go.

15km remaining from 194km

Behind the FDJ.fr and OPQS teams are trying to lead the chase but they seem to lack the fire power to close the gap.

The break has 40 seconds.

Giant-Shimano and Katusha are also chasing behind but the break looks stronger than the peloton at the moment.

There are eight riders in the break. We stand corrected. it is not Bak but Pim Ligthart  for Lotto Belisol.

10km remaining from 194km

The gap is now 20 seconds. This will be very close.

Katusha has put four riders on the front.

Up front the eight also seem to have lost the desire and unity needed to stay away. Voigt was one of the first to miss a turn.

The break is in sight and so Edet takes a flyer to go clear alone, Favilli, is going after him.

The others have been caught.

5km remaining from 194km

No luck for Edet and Favilli. OPQS has closed the gap and so now all the peloton is together.

It's time for the sprint trains to take over.

3km remaining from 194km

A lone Astana rider goes clear but now the FDJ.fr team hits the front. They will clash with Giant-Shimano for the final leadout.

Westra is the Astana rider but he is suffering despite his time trial skills.

Lotto and OPQS are also lined up for the sprint.

There is a split in the peloton.

Last kilometre!

A tight corners shuffles the sprint lead outs.

The riders are lined out with it seems Impey leading the peloton.

Demare fails to find a way through and is beaten.

It's a close finish between Boeckmans (Lotto Belisol) and Niklas Arndt (Giant-Shimano) but Arndt gets it.

The photo finish gave the victory to the young German rider but a few inches.

Chris Froome (Team Sky) finished safely in the peloton and so retained the race lead ahead of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).

Wednesday's stage is from Montelimar to Gap, over 167km. It includes the Col de Manse in the final loop and so should spark a thrilling finale.

We'll have a full stage report, a huge photo gallery of all the action and news and interviews from today's stage on Cyclingnews very soon.

Join us on Wednesday for full coverage of stage four.

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