John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) seized control of the Dubai Tour after a stunning ride to win on the stage three uphill finish.
On gradients of close to 17 per cent in the final 200 metres, all eyes were on the all-rounders but Degenkolb put himself into the hurt locker, after a great lead-out by his team, to out-sprint Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana).
Former race leader Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) finished in the front group too, but slight time differences and the bonus at the finish line means Degenkolb boasts a slender overall lead of four seconds.
It means the two will go wheel-to-wheel in a winner-takes-all sprint on the pan-flat stage four circuit in the shadow of Burj Khalifa.
It had taken some time for any riders to earn a gap early in the race, but five riders eventually broke clear and built up the biggest advantage of the race so far.
Luka Pibernik (Lampre-Merida), Mohammed Al Murawwi (Skydive Dubai), Martijn Verschoor (Team Novo Nordisk), Vladimir Gusev (Skydive Dubai) and Alessandro Bazzana (UnitedHealthCare) had more than nine minutes on the strung-out bunch as the halfway point of the 205km stage approached.
Riding into a fierce headwind for much of the day took its toll however, as Etixx-QuickStep and Movistar led the peloton in pursuit.
Al Murawwi and Verschoor cracked first, while Gusev was next to sit up as the pace in the peloton intensified.
Movistar’s efforts on the front, coupled with a crash in the peloton, saw a gap form, with Cavendish and stage two winner Elia Viviani, in the red jersey, both caught behind it.
Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Bernie Eisel (Team Sky) were both in the back group, ensuring there was never any real reason for panic however, as Cavendish’s team-mates worked to shut the gap down.
There was still a minute between the two groups when the peloton – with BMC Racing and Movistar on the nose – caught the two remaining escapees.
With 30km remaining, however, that had been completely shut down though Movistar continued to drive the pace on the front.
Francisco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai) seized the opportunity to burst off the front, building up a lead of more than 90 seconds, but the headwind soon took its toll on him too.
More attacking followed as the roads ramped upwards into the final ten kilometres, with Angel Vicioso (Katusha) earning a gap on the rapidly thinning peloton.
Lars Boom (Astana) led the chase, with Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) opting not to follow after briefly joining the counter-attack.
Boom caught the tiring Mancebo with seven kilometres remaining as Vicioso’s attack came to nothing, while BMC Racing led the peloton.
Cavendish proved his form, still sat in the peloton alongside Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) despite the large number of riders spat out the back.
BMC Racing brought the front of the race back together inside the final five kilometres though, as the peloton bedded in for an attack on the final climb.
Martin brought Mark Renshaw and Cavendish to the front, while Thomas was brought forward for Sky and Vincenzo Nibali moved up for Astana too.
The fight for position was frantic as Nibali took charge before peeling off under the flamme rouge.
Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) ramped up the cadence as they approached the climb but did not last long.
Degenkolb hit the front with perfect timing, after a great lead-out from the team however and, teeth gritted, crossed the line to open his account for the season.
The effort he put in was plain to see as he collapsed to the tarmac at the finish line, but his reward is the race lead as they head to the flat stage four finale to this race.
Dubai Tour 2015: stage three – result
1) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Alpecin – 4.50.40hrs
2) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +2”
3) Juan Jose Lobato (ESP) – Movistar – ST
4) Filippo Pozzato (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
5) Marco Canola (ITA) – UnitedHealthCare
6) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing
7) Grega Bole (SVN) – CCC Sprandi Polowice
8) Brent Bookwalter (USA) – BMC Racing +7”
9) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – ST
10) Edgar Lemos (POR) – Skydive Dubai
1) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Alpecin – 12.45.29hrs
2) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Etixx-QuickStep +4”
3) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +6”
4) Juan Jose Lobato (ESP) – Movistar +8”
5) Alessandro Bazzana (ITA) – UnitedHealthCare +11”
6) Grega Bole (SVN) – CCC Sprandi Polkowice +12”
7) Marco Canola (ITA) – UnitedHealthCare – ST
8) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing
9) Filippo Pozzato (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
10) Edgar Lemos (POR) – Skydive Dubai +17”