Manuel Cardoso surprised the big names by snatching stage three of the Tour Down Under today. The Portuguese national champion jumped out of the pack 250 meters from the line, catching everyone else off-guard on a tough rise to the finish.
Caisse d’Epargne had looked threatening all day as they tried to set up the win for Alejandro Valverde. The Spanish team controlled the race on the final undulating circuit and Valverde was always near the front, looking attentive.
But he was caught napping when Cardoso made his move. World Champion Cadel Evans reacted first as he and Valverde closed in on Cardoso all the way to the line.
But they had left it too late and had to settle for second and third. Evans was showing a bit of early season form for the first time in this race while Lance Armstrong came in in 30th place out of a group of 40 that came in together.
The sprinters, who have so far dominated this race, managed to hang on and finish in that front group on this one of the toughest stages.
The heat had been a major factor as the temperature crept up in to the high 30s while the undulating finishing circuit in Stirling meant the fast men had to pay attention just to stay up the front. Leader, and winner of stages one and two, Andre Greipel looked comfortable after finishing 23rd as his HTC Columbia team mates had worked to consolidate his lead all day.
No serious break established itself during the stage as the American team came through their toughest day so far, keeping the field together as no break got much more than a minutes advantage. Team boss Bob Stapleton said he felt the team had gelled today better than any other in the race.
Later in the race Caisse d’Epargne took the pressure off HTC Columbia as they looked for the stage. “There was a break away and it was a threat,” Caisse d’Epargne Sports Director Neil Stephens said of the group of five that got clear on the finishing circuit.
“Whenever there’s a break with Jens Voigt in you’ve got to treat it as a serious threat. Once that had come back there were little attacks going [but] we were committed by then and we had to keep going.”
The finish was perfect for Valverde, but the Spaniard, who looks to have escaped a world wide ban for doping following CAS’s latest decision, was too slow to react to Cardoso and had to settle for second.
George Hincapie hits the deck early on stage three
Garmin’s Jack Bobridge leads a short lived escape group on the finishing circuit
Tour Down Under stage 3: Unley – Stirling, 132.5km
1. Manuel Cardoso (Por) Footon Servetto Fuji
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Caisse d’Epargne at 1 sec
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas
5. Mauro Finetto (Ita) Liquigas
6. Michael Rogers (Aus) HTC Columbia
7. Luke Roberts (Aus) Milram
8. Markus Fothen (Ger) Milram
9. Anthony Roux (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
10. Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha all at same time
1. André Greipel (Ger) HTC-Columbia 9-53.38hrs
2. Greg Henderson (NZl) Team Sky at 14 secs
3. Gert Steegmans (Bel) Team RadioShack
4. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Caisse d’Epargne at same time
5. Robbie McEwen (Aus) Katusha at 16 secs
6. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto
7. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC at same time
8. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana at 19 secs
9. Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank at 20 secs
10. Robbie Hunter (Aus) Garmin Transitions at same time
King of the Mountains classification
Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Milram
André Greipel (Ger) HTC-Columbia
Ag2r La Mondiale
Young rider classification
Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto