Luca Paolini timed his effort perfectly to win the third stage of the Giro d’Italia and snatch the overall leader’s pink jersey at the end of an eventful ride on Monday.
Paolini, whose Katusha team were a late inclusion in the race after they won a place on the World Tour (elite) following an appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), attacked in the final descent of the 222-km trek from Sorrento.
Australian Cadel Evans and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal of Canada finished second and third respectively, taking precious time bonuses.
“I raced today as if it were a one-day classic,” Paolini told reporters.
“I suffered in the last climb but I knew there was a descent afterwards so I did not give up. We will now enjoy the pink jersey and will try to keep it as long as we can.”
Italian Michele Scarponi, a potential race winner, crashed in the descent and lost one minute while Hesjedal rode in a surprisingly aggressive fashion for a defending champion.
The Canadian climber, who gave his Garmin-Sharp team their maiden Grand Tour title last year, put his rivals under pressure with repeated attacks in the final climb and descent.
“I felt there was an opportunity today. You can get something out of it everyday,” Hesjedal told reporters.
“It’s better to be up front.”
Paolini, a one-day race specialist, was the strongest on the day and chose the right moment to surge away from the lead group that had formed after one of Hesjedal’s numerous attacks.
Riding his first Giro at 36, Paolini, who won the Het Nieuwsblad one-day race in February, barely looked back and crossed the finish line 16 seconds ahead of the chasing group.
Paolini leads the overall standings by 17 seconds heading into Tuesday’s fourth stage, a 244-km hilly ride between Policastro Bussentino and Serra San Bruno.
Hesjedal, whose Garmin-Sharp team produced a below-par performance in Sunday’s team time trial, lies seventh, 34 seconds behind Paolini.
Evans, who is 12th overall, eight seconds further adrift, was just happy he stayed out of trouble.
“I was just looking to avoid trouble like the problems Michele Scarponi had after the two Blanco riders crashed in front of him,” the 2011 Tour de France winner said.
“Like everything that counts for the race, we prepare for it as best as we can.” (Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)