Team Sky enjoyed a dream day at the Criterium du Dauphiné, with Edvald Boasson Hagen sprinting to victory on stage three, while Bradley Wiggins defended his overall lead.
Boasson Hagen, who won two stages at last year’s Tour de France, jumped onto Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s leadout train to beat the Belgian team’s sprinter, Gerald Ciolek, to the line, with Borut Božic (Astana) in third.
Defending Dauphiné champion Wiggins finished safely in the bunch after being kept at the front of the peloton throughout the 167km stage from Givors to La Clayette to maintain his one-second advantage over Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) at the top of the general classification.
“It was a nice day for the team as we had the yellow jersey but we didn’t really have to work,” said Boasson Hagen. “The team did a good job to keep Bradley up the front and I could just sit behind. I’m here mainly to help him to win the race but I got the chance today to try to sprint.
“[John] Degenkolb [Argos-Shimano] had a flat tyre so there was one less to sprint against and I was able to win which I’m really happy about.
“We have a really strong team here with Bradley in the lead and we’ll cross our fingers that we can keep the yellow jersey the whole week.”
The Criterium du Dauphiné provides many of those riders looking to win the Tour de France with the opportunity to recce some of the race’s key climbs and, as a result, stage three presented the only chance for the sprinters to leave their mark on the race.
Three categorised climbs came early in the stage and that provided the platform for Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to break away and build up an advantage of more than five minutes. But, with the sprinters’ teams joining forces the at front of the peloton, the duo were doomed and were caught with 15km to go.
Stage favourite Degenkolb saw his campaign for victory derailed after puncturing in the closing stages, while Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) made a solo bid for glory inside the final two kilometres.
Radioshack-Nissan-Trek and Omega Pharma-QuickStep combined to reel the Belgian in to set up a sprint finish and Boasson Hagen showed an impressive turn of speed to steal a share of the limelight from Wiggins.
But it will be Wiggins under the spotlight on Thursday, when the 32-year-old is expected to tighten his grip on the race in the 53km time trial between Villie-Morgon and Bourg-en-Bresse, which will also provide the opportunity to check up on Evans’ form against the clock less than a month before the Australian defends his Tour de France title.