Pello Bilbao wins Tour Down Under stage 3

Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) won stage 3 of the Santos Tour Down Under after he joined Jay Vine (UAE Emirates) and Simon Yates (Jayco-Alula) before the top of the Corkscrew climb. The Spaniard worked with them on the descent into Campbelltown to hold off the chasers and then outsprinted Yates for victory. 

Vine put in the initial move on the Corkscrew, accelerating on the steepest part and put race leader Rohan Dennis on the back foot and out of GC contention after he had to fight back to the field after a bike change due to a gear problem.  

With the leader's jersey in mind, Vine continued to drive toward the finish line, leading out Yates and Bilbao, who were vying for the stage win.

Vine now leads the overall classification by 15 seconds ahead of Bilbao. Yates currently sits in third place at 16 seconds. Best Young Rider Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) has dropped to fourth at 45 seconds, and Mauro Schmid (Soudal-QuickStep) is fifth at 46 seconds. 

"I love it when a plan comes together," Vine said. 

"I couldn't have done it without the team, all I had to do was go on the last hill.  They did an amazing job. 

"It was full gas over the top of the climb. We pushed all the way to the line. It's special to be the race leader and wear the ochre jersey like a lot of the famous Australian riders. Hopefully we can take it home on Sunday night." 

Bilbao celebrated with his Bahrain Victorious teammates beyond the finish. It is the team's second stage victory after Phil Bauhaus won the sprint on stage 1.  

“Yesterday we were a bit disappointed because the race did not go as we expected, losing some seconds in the finish line. Today this was the best for me, short and explosive kicks with the fast descent until the finish line," Bilbao said. 

"I had some difficulty joining Yates and Vine. I had to do my best and join them in the last 300 metres of the climb. I knew I was going to have a good possibility, as they were also looking for the overall, and I was more focusing on making my best sprint and trying to win today. 

"I really enjoy working with directeur sportif Neil Stephens. He really looks into details. It is a pleasure to do his home race and also to give this victory to him. He is going to be very proud of the guys who just did a perfect job for me.”

How it unfolded

The 116.8km stage started in Norwood, with the streets thickly packed with the ever growing crowds as tourists from South Australia and the rest of the nation took an early mark on the weekend to once again witness the WorldTour race, and it probably doesn’t hurt that they were also there to witness a home-state rider line up in ochre.

The climbing started early on the day with 2,442 metres of ascent, with riders heading out of the eastern suburb on a mild summer day and straight into the ascent of Ashton. With its average gradient of 4.8% and maximum of 17.8%. The peak came at just 9.6km into the racing, with the early break of Fabio Felline (Astana Qazaqstan) and Mikel Honore (EF Education-EasyPost) – who had not hesitated to take off quickly – taking out the top points on the climb.

Australian national champion Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) was next on the first of the three major climbs of Friday’s race, as at the start of the day he was sitting second behind Jay Vine in the climbing classification so had warmed up right before the start so he was ready to chase those early KOM points.

Jumbo-Visma were sitting near the front of the peloton but then there was one Alpecin-Deceuninck rider leading the chase and the gap was continuing to stretch, pulling out to beyond four minutes at around 70km to go.

Then by just under 60km the gap had been pulled back to under three minutes, with Alpecin-Deceuninck now sending two to the front. By the time it came to intermediate sprint point in Williamstown, with 53km to, a trio from the team lept out of the field, with Kaden Groves among them to make sure he swept up the remaining one second time bonus, moving up to fifth place on the overall as a result but given what was yet to unfold, not for long.

The gap was shrinking but the leading duo held out the front through the climb of Checker Hill at 34.6km to go, with Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) coming over third to sweep over some of the remaining KOM points.

Eventually Felline gave way, leaving Honore out front in the break alone, though there was no remaining there once the GC battle heated up.

There were also crashes through on the road to the final crucial climb of the Corkscrew, with its maximum gradient of 24.4%. Gianni Moscon (Astana Qazastan) was involved in one, as was his teammate Leanardo Basso. Moscon was nursing his shoulder, and later the news came through that he had been forced to abandon.

Cofidis rider Harrison Wood and Israel Premier-Tech’s Chris Froome and Corbin Strong were also caught up later, with Froome working to pace Strong back but the pace was on up the front. When the camera swung away from the chasing Israel-Premier Tech duo, the ochre-clad Dennis could be seen at the back of the field, returning after what looked like a bike change that inconveniently had to be made before the climb of Checker HIll, as the gears were not working.

Through the descent on the run into the Corkscrew, Dennis worked to make his way back up through the peloton and while he rejoined there was no going straight to the front to react to the inevitable attacks. Instead it was a matter of fighting to limit the losses as Vine and Yates leapt away. The dangerous duo, then became a trio, with Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) hooking on the back.

 After cresting the KOM with 5.8km to go, the trio pushed on the descent, working together to create as big a gap as possible before they thought about the final sprint.

With Vine more concerned about GC time, Yates and Bilbao were left to battle it out. Bilbao wound it up first and held off Yates to take Bahrain Victorious' second win of the week at the Tour Down Under.

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