Team Sky continued to dominate the 2011 Tour of California on Tuesday, with Greg Henderson taking the bunch sprint on stage three a day after British team-mate Ben Swift won a stage.
Although the result wasn’t quite in the plan, the New Zealander grabbed the opportunity for a stage win and out-paced JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank) and world champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo).
Henderson was positioned in the bunch to lead out Swift but realised that the Brit was not on his wheel. When Jeremy Hunt lead him into the final corner, Henderson had no option but to start his sprint with 500 metres to go and then propel himself to the line in Modesto.
“We were all lined up and I opened up with 500 metres to go expecting Swifty but he wasn’t there,” Henderson said after the win.
“With 100m to go I thought no one had come around me so I just kept my head down. I was lucky to have the legs but was absolutely spent at the line. I was so lactic I was cross-eyed, I couldn’t even do a victory salute.”
Despite being blocked in and being knocked out of the Sky train, Swift still managed to place 11th on the stage.
An earlier crash had wiped out several riders, including stage hopeful Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad), Jens Voigt (Leopard-Trek) and Michael Matthews (Rabobank).
Henderson’s win means that he now leads the overall classification, tied at the same time as Swift. The Sky pair lead Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Haedo by four seconds.
The long, windy and rain-swept stage had been largely dominated by a seven-rider escape group who had ploughed on in grim conditions. The group eventually splintered and was absorbed back into the bunch in the final 20km.
For most of the day, Sky and HTC-Highroad had taken up position at the front of the bunch to police the time gap on the escapees and bring it all together for a sprint finish.
On Wednesday, the riders face a stage four which comprises a 131.6km hilly route from Livermore culminating in an uphill finish to San Jose. We should see the overall contenders usurping the sprinters in the top ranks of the overall classification for the first time in the race.
Tour of California 2011, stage three: Auburn to Modesto, 196.2km
1. Greg Henderson (NZ) Sky in 5-14-29
2. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank
3. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
5. Leigh Howard (Aus) HTC-Highroad
6. Kevin Lacombe (Can) Spidertech
7. Robert Forster (Ger) Unitedhealthcare
8. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing
9. Jure Kocjan (Slo) Team type 1
10. Alex Candelario (USA) Kelly Benefit Strategies all same time
Overall classification after stage three
1. Greg Henderson (NZ) Sky in 8-01-31
2. Ben Swift (GB) Sky at same time
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale at 4 secs
4. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank at 4 secs
5. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo at 6 secs
6. Matt Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad at 6 secs
7. Kevin Lacombe (Can) Spidertech at 10 secs
8. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing at 10 secs
9. Robert Forster (Ger) Unitedhealthcare at 10 secs
10. Alex Candelario (USA) Kelly Benefit Strategies at 10 secs
Greg Henderson takes the win after a long sprint
Winners spoils: Greg Henderson takes the lead from team-mate Ben Swift
Tour of California 2011: Related links
Stage two: Swift wins and takes lead
Snow forces Tour of California opening stage cancellation