The 20-year-old Slovakian Peter Sagan, second behind William Bonnet in Limoges yesterday, went one better by winning stage three of Paris-Nice after the race exploded on the final climb near Aurillac.
Sagan adds to the embarrassment of stage racing riches at Liquigas, who have Ivan Basso, Franco Pellizotti, Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger in their ranks.
Kreuziger, the Czech rider who is only 23 years old himself, came into Paris-Nice as the Liquigas leader and one of the outsiders for overall victory.
But he is being upstaged by Sagan, a former world junior mountain bike champion, who only turned professional in January.
As the race broke up on the final climb, Jens Voigt, 18 years older than Sagan, also got clear of the bunch to pinch the yellow jersey from Rabobank’s Lars Boom, who missed out on the break.
The third stage was supposed to be a 208-kilometre run from Saint-Julien to Aurillac, but was shortened by 53 kilometres because of the freezing conditions. Instead the riders sped forward to Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche and started the stage from there.
Almost from the gun, three riders attacked. Jurgen Roelandts of Omega Pharma, Nikolas Maes of Quick Step and Yann Huguet of Skil-Shimano, who were again on the attack as they seek to secure a Tour de France wild card, broke clear. They built a good lead but it was never going to last and with 20 kilometres to go, the peloton had them pegged at about a minute.
Inside the final 15 kilometres, Maes dropped back to the bunch as they almost completed the catch. Roelandts and Huguet pressed on and held off the inevitable until six kilometres to go.
On the final climb, the second-category Côte de la Martinie, which was short, steep and came about three kilometres from Aurillac, Tony Martin of HTC-Columbia was first to test the water.
Then Nicolas Roche, the Irish champion, riding for AG2R launched a very good-looking attack.
That sparked fireworks. Sagan went across, then Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alberto Contador (Astana) sprung out of the bunch. It was an exciting and aggressive finish. Voigt, lying second overall by just five seconds and sensing the chance to pinch the yellow jersey, also went on the attack.
Sagan outsprinted Rodriguez and Roche on the line, to announce his arrival as a possible superstar of the future.
Voigt crossed the line fourth and had done enough to take the yellow jersey from Boom, who was stranded back in the bunch, his Rabobank team-mates unable to hold things together. Boom slipped to sixth overall.
Britain’s David Millar was alert and held on to fourth place overall.
Tomorrow’s fourth stage will see the race shaken up again. They head to Mende and finish on the very difficult hill, the 3.1-kilometre climb named after former rider Laurent Jalabert, which has an average gradient of 10 per cent.
Paris-Nice 2010, stage three: Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche – Aurillac
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas 155km in 3-44-28
2. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
3. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r both same time
4. Jens Voigt (Ger) Saxo Bank at 2secs
5. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Columbia
6. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
7. Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre at 6secs
8. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis
9. Xavier Florencio (Spa) Cervélo
10. Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil
28. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 6secs
37. Steve Cummings (GB) Team Sky
96. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervelo at 1-17
142. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 2-26
Overall classification after stage three
1. Jens Voigt (Ger) Saxo Bank in 12-40-26
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas at 6secs
3. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 9secs
4. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 12secs
5. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 14secs
6. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank at 20secs
7. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 20secs
8. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Radioshack at 24secs
9. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 28secs
10. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo at 28secs
Yann Huguet, Jurgen Roelandts and Nikolas Maes escape
Caisse d’Epargne work hard to reel in the escapees
Britain’s Steve Cummings wraps up
Sagan takes a strong win on the shortened stage three
Jens Voigt takes the overall lead from Lars Boom