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After a perfect lead-out from Unitedhealthcare, Murphy beat Bonifazio in a photo finish on stage 3 of the Herald Sun Tour as pre-race favourite Ewan could only manage sixth; Kennaugh defended the lead

Photo: Feltet.dk

HERALD SUN TOUR

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NICCOLÓ BONIFAZIO

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PETER KENNAUGH

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STEELE VON HOFF

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TEAM SKY

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UNITEDHEALTHCARE PRO CYCLING

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06.02.2016 @ 13:13 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

John Murphy (Unitedhealthcare) created a massive surprise when he came out on top in the bunch sprint on the third stage of the Herald Sun Tour which had been expected to come down to another dominant showing by Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE). Unitedhealthcare did everything right to position their sprinter before the final corner and then he held off Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek-Segafredo) in a photo finish, with Ewan rolling across the line in sixth. Peter Kennaugh (Sky) defended the overall lead on the eve of the queen stage.

 

After his dominant performances at the Tour Down Under, most were expecting Caleb Ewan to win the two sprint stages that were on offer at this year’s Herald Sun Tour. His favourite status only got bigger after yesterday’s impressive showing in stage 2 which turned out to be much harder than expected and few believed that it would be possible to beat the local rider in stage 3 which was the easiest stage of the race.

 

However, John Murphy was unfazed by Ewan’s presence and the American used the famous blue Unitedhealthcare train to get him into the perfect position for the final dash to the line. With a sharp turn coming less than 500m from the finish, positioning was key and as Ewan failed to get things right in the hectic run-in, the American managed to finish off a perfect lead-out with a surprise win.

 

The flat stage had been a very straightforward affair, with the 5-rider break of Ben Hill (Attaque Team Gusto), Tomas Hubbard (Data#3), Morgan Smith (Kenyan Riders), Daniel Bonello (St. George) and Russel Downing (JLT) escaping from the gun and spending the entire day on the attack. Sky, Orica-GreenEDGE and Trek-Segafredo had shared the pace-setting duties and with little wind, the bunch sprint finish seemed inevitable.

 

At the 76km mark, the gap had been reduced to 2.30 but it went back out to 3.00 after 91km of racing before the peloton decided that it was time to chase in earnest. With 37km to go, it was down to 2.10 and it was 1.30 when the riders were just 1km from the first sprint where Hill beat Downing and Hubbard.

 

The fight for position started in the peloton when they entered the final 25km. It was Sam Bewley setting the pace for Orica-GreenEDGE and he made the gap come down quickly. However, the break was still clear at the final sprint 18km from the finish where Hill beat Hubbard and Downing to move into the lead in the sprints competition.

 

Smith decided to attack his companions while Hill and Hubbard dropped back to the peloton but the rest of the break found back together. However, they only had a 200m advantage with 10km to go and with 9km to go, Orica-GreenEDGE had brought it back together.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE kept the pace high as they approached the finish but as they got to the crucial turn inside the final 500m, they ran out of steam. Unitedhealthcare passed them and delivered Murphy on the front. Niccolo Bonifazio came fast at the end but after a photo finish, the Unitedhealthcare rider was declared the winner, with Steele von Hoff (ONE) completing the podium.

 

Peter Kennaugh (Sky finished safely in the bunch and so defended his 13-second lead over his teammate Chris Froome. It will now all come down to the final stage which is also the queen stage of the race. After a lumpy first part with categorized climbs, the riders will end the stage by doing two laps of a finishing circuit that ends at the top of the steep 2.6km climb of Arthur’s Seat for a total of three passages of the ascent inside the final 35km of the stage.

 

A flat stage

After yesterday’s lumpy stage, the sprinters were finally expected to have their say on stage 3 which was the easiest stage of the race It brought the riders over 146.2km fromTrarlgon to Inverloch and after two early category 3 climbs, it was a completely flat run to the finishing city where the riders did a small loop close to the coast where the wind was the only danger to a bunch sprint finish.

 

However, there was barely any wind and great sunshine when the riders rolled through the neutral zone. Only one rider was absent as Nicolas Marini (Nippo-Vini Fantini) didn’t take the start.

 

Five riders get clear

After yesterday’s hectic opening, it was a stress-free start to the race as Ben Hill (Attaque Team Gusto), Tomas Hubbard (Data#3), Morgan Smith (Kenyan Riders) and Daniel Bonello (St. George) attacked right from the start. Russel Downing (JLT) quickly joined them and as the peloton stopped for an early natural break, the gap quickly went out to 2 minutes at the 6km mar.

 

The peloton was in no hurry and at the 17km mark, the gap had grown to 4 minutes. It reached a maximum of 4.26 before the peloton reacted and brought it down to 3.48 after 27km of racing. However, it had again gone out to 4.15 at the bottom of the first climb where Hubbard led Downing and Bonello over the top.

 

At the bottom of the second climb, the gap was 3.34 and this time it was Downing beating Hubbard and Bonello in the KOM sprint. In the peloton, it was Sky setting the pace but they were now getting some assistance from Orica-GreenEDGE and Trek-Segafredo.

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