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Having made it into a 7-rider group of favourites, Pozzovivo made a perfectly timed attack just before the flamme rouge and held on to take a solo win on stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya; Rolland is the new leader

Photo: Sirotti

DANIEL MARTIN

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DECATHLON AG2R LA MONDIALE

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DIRECT ENERGIE

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DOMENICO POZZOVIVO

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PIERRE ROLLAND

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RIGOBERTO URAN

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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25.03.2015 @ 17:42 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) took a rare victory when he used a combination of smart tactics and good climbing legs to outwit 6 rivals at the end of a dramatic third stage of the Volta a Catalunya. After Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) had crashed out of the lead group and Chris Froome (Sky) had been dropped, a 7-rider group was formed and with less than 2km to go, the tiny Italian launched a well-timed attack to take a solo win. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) finished in the main group and so takes the overall lead on the eve of the queen stage.

 

Domenico Pozzovivo has proved that he is one of the best climbers in the world but despite his climbing prowess he has taken very few wins in his career. Today he finally broke a long drought that has lasted since he won a stage of the 2012 Giro d’Italia when one of his many solo attacks finally paid off in stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya.

 

Pozzovivo had used his great climbing skills to make it into a 7-rider group that arrived at the finish together and he played it calmly when they hit the final flat 2.6km to the finish in Girona. While the rest of the group worked well together to increase their advantage over a big chase group that included the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Pierre Rolland, the Italian saved energy at the back of the group.

 

Knowing that he had no chance in a sprint against the likes of Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) and Daniel Martin (Cannondale) who were both in the group alongside Fabio Aru (Astana), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Richie Porte (Team Sky) and Andrew Talansky (Cannondale), he made a perfectly timed attack just before they passed the flamme rouge. As expected, his rivals looked at each other and he quickly got a big gap.

 

Uran and Talansky finally got a chase organized but it was too late to get back to the tiny Italian. Pozzovivo held on to win the stage while Uran narrowly beat Martin in the sprint 3 seconds later.

 

The win came at the end of a very dramatic day. All day Tinkoff-Saxo worked hard to make the race as tough as possible but it was bad luck for Alejandro Valverde which set the scene for the drama. As it happened in 2012 and 2013, the Spaniard hit the deck at the worst possible moment while they were climbing the penultimate climb.

 

After a long chase, Valverde managed to latch onto the back of the group just as they reached the top of the climb but he had no chance to get back into position on the tricky descent. That turned out to be costly as the fast pace by Tinkoff-Saxo and another crash created a split and suddenly the Spaniard found himself in a second group that was 30 seconds behind. Tinkoff-Saxo, Etixx-QuickStep and Astana worked hard to maintain the gap and despite impressive work by Valverde, he never managed to get back in contention.

 

On the final climb, the battle started in the front group and after Diego Rosa (Astana) had whittled the group down to less than 10 riders, Contador made his first of several attacks. At this point, Chris Froome (Sky) had already been distanced, confirming the bad impression that he had given in stage 2.

 

At the top of the climb, 5 riders were together but both Talansky and Martin managed to get back on the descent. They worked well together to maintain their gap over the chasers but it was Pozzovivo who played it smart to win the stage.

 

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) had made the initial split on the descent but dropped back to the Valverde group on the climb. As they only lost 22 seconds and race leader Maciej Paterski (CCC) and Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal) finished further back, he moves into the lead with an advantage of 1.06 over Paterski. Pozzovivo is the first of the pre-race favourites in fourth at 2.14.

 

Rolland faces a sterner test tomorrow when the riders are set to tackle the queen stage. After a hilly start with two category 1 climbs, they go up the only HC climb of the race before they descend to the bottom of the short 5.6km climb to the finish in La Molina.

 

A hilly stage

After two days that had been suited to sprinters, the first small GC battle was expected on the third day of the Volta a Catalunya which brought the riders over 156.6km a start in Girona and back to a finish in the same city. The terrain was hilly all day and the riders faced no less than two category 3, one category 2 and two category 1 climbs over the short distance. The category 1 Alt dels Angels summited just 13km from the line and then it was a 10.4km descent leading to the flat final 2.6km.

 

There were no non-starters when the 184 remaining riders left Girona under a cloudy but dry sky. As expected they got the race off to a brutally fast start with lots of attacks and it took a long time for the early break to be formed.

 

Lots of attacks

Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha), Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) and Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida) were the first riders to get a significant advantage but after 8km of racing, they were back in the fold. Movistar and CCC worked hard to control the many moves in the early part and after 20km of racing, it was still all together.

 

Moments later, Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) and Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne) attacked and they managed to build an advantage of 15 seconds. Boris Vallee (Lotto Soudal) and Romain Hardy (Cofidis) made an unsuccessful attempt to bridge the gap and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar) didn’t have any luck either.

 

The break is formed

Janier Acevedo (Cannondale-Garmin) was the next to try but he was brought back too. Instead, it was Tom Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida), Rudy Molard (Cofidis) and Leonardo Duque (Colombia) who made the junction after 33km of very fast racing.

 

Now the peloton finally slowed down a bit and at the 36km mark, the gap had been extended to 1.30. At the bottom of the first climb, it was 2.25 and when Molard led Duque, Jarrier, and Mas over the top, the peloton had been distanced by 2.45.

 

Mas picks up points

Mas beat Danielson and Molard in the first intermediate sprint to increase his lead in the sprints classification and they still gained time on the peloton. When they hit the bottom of the second climb, the gap was a maximum of 3.15 but when Duque beat Molard, Danielson and Mas in the KOM sprint, they had seen their advantage become reduced to 2.55.

 

The peloton again slowed down as they turned into a headwind and so the gap was back up to 3.10 at the 60km mark. It even reached 3.45 when Mas beat Danielson and Cattaneo in the second intermediate sprint.

 

Paterski loses contact

In the peloton, CCC were working with Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo and Europcar to keep the gap stable but when they hit the Alt dels Angels for the first time, the Russian team started to put their rivals under pressure. As a consequence, Paterski lost contact and was distanced at the halfway point.

 

Meanwhile, the front group split on the climb as Duque, Danielson and Molard turned out to be the strongest. As Duque led Molard and Danielson over the top, Mas, Cattaneo and Jarrier were still in between while Talansky and Contador were first from the peloton 50 seconds later.

 

Disaster for Valverde

Ivan Basso, Michael Rogers and Michael Valgren were working hard for Tinkoff-Saxo in the peloton which lost a bit of ground and allowed the gap to get back up to 1.25 with 52km to go. As the fight for position intensified, the front trio started to lose ground though and just as they hit the bottom of the penultimate climb, it was all back together.

 

Rogers swung off and it was Valgren and Basso who worked hard on the front of the group while Porte and Froome were well-positioned near the front. That’s when disaster struck for Valverde who had to get a new wheel from his teammate Jose Herrada and faced a long chase with teammates Winner Anacona and Jose Joaquin Rojas to get back.

 

The peloton splits

Rojas and Valverde passed several riders along their way before Valverde latched onto the back of the field just as Sergio Paulinho had led Valgre, Rafal Majka, Robert Kiserlovski, Basso and Contador over the top. However, he didn’t have time to get back into position and as Paulinho and Valgren worked hard on the descent, he lost out when the group split.

 

With 30km to go, his group was 12 seconds behind and now Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep), Tanel Kangert and Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) started to work with Valgren Paulinho and Basso as a consequence, the gap continued to grow and was 30 seconds with 24km to go.

 

Froome is dropped

Lotto Soudal and Movistar worked hard in the second group and the gap was down to 20 seconds as they hit the bottom of the final climb. That’s when Rafal Majka took over in the front group while Valverde and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Soudal) were leading the chase in the second group. The latter briefly tried to get clear but he soon fell back to the main group.

 

Kiserlovski took over the pace-setting in the front group and this was too much for Froome who got distanced. Moments later Rosa took over and his pace whittled the group down to just the Italian, Contador, Porte, Pozzovivo, Aru and Uran.

 

Contador tries again

Talansky managed to rejoin them but just as Martin also made the junction, Contador made his first attack. Porte, Uran and Pozzovivo followed him and Aru also managed to get back in contention.

 

Contador tried again but he was unable to get clear and the subsequent attack by Porte had no effect either. Meanwhile, Valverde and Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) were chasing hard in the second group but as they reached the top, they were 40 seconds behind. Pozzovivo led Contador, Porte and Aru over the KOM sprint.

 

Martin and Talansky rejoin the front

On the descent, Contador was frustrated not to get too much help and this allowed Talansky and later also Martin to rejoin them. From here they started to work well together but they constantly lost ground to the main group. Alberto Losada (Katusha), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Diego Rosa formed a chase trio.

 

The front septet managed to stay away and it was Pozzovivo who was smart enough to outwit his rivals. The three chasers were caught just as they passed the line, 22 seconds behind the Italian stage winner.

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