John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) sprinted into the overall lead at Paris-Nice after a stunning team ride by Giant-Shimano on the Magny-Cours motor racing circuit.
Degenkolb, second in the first two stages, led the sprint out on the famous circuit after his team took control in the final two kilometres.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) gave chase, but the German proved too powerful.
And with Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) finishing in seventh place, Degenkolb moved into the overall lead to take the yellow jersey ahead of the hillier stages to come.
Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) and Romain Feillu (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) formed the day’s break, but with Feillu just 32 seconds back overall they were never allowed too big a gap.
With a slow pace set throughout, their advantage reached a maximum of 3’10”, but the three Frenchmen were kept in check by FDJ.fr.
The gap hovered around the two minutes mark for much of the stage, growing slightly when the peloton passed through the feed zone but tumbling when Fouchard punctured and the other two waited for him.
Feillu led over the day’s only climb, while Quemeneur was first through the intermediate sprint.
Back in the bunch, Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) suffered another frustrating day as he struggled to stick with the pack despite the relatively steady speeds set.
Several teams shared shifts at the front, keeping the three escapees at a manageable distance as they approached Magny-Cours.
With a lead of just 40 seconds into the final 13 kilometres, the pace in the bunch eased slightly as they negotiated a large section littered with road furniture.
Quemeneur decided to take the attack on alone, accelerating into the final ten kilometres as his two compatriots faded, while Astana, Movistar and Sky lined out on the front of the bunch.
Keen to disrupt the bunch for as long as possible, Quemeneur put a huge solo shift in up the road and still held a 40-second advantage when Fouchard and Feillu were swallowed up.
Sky continued to lead the pursuit, keeping Geraint Thomas out of danger, with Luke Rowe and Edvald Boasson Hagen the final two to peel off having managed to stick together for much longer than the previous stage.
Quemeneur entered the Magny-Cours racing circuit with a 25-second lead but there was trouble further back with a few riders forced to go onto the grass.
As his lead tumbled, he grimaced with the effort of staying up front and was eventually caught with two kilometres remaining.
Giant-Shimano took control, comfortably the negotiating the final hairpin bend and leading the way under the flamme rouge.
Degenkolb led the sprint out on the slight uphill finish and held on to take victory from Goss and Rojas by almost a full bike length.
Paris-Nice 2014: stage three – result
1) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano – 4.27.26hrs
2) Matt Goss (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – ST
3) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
4) Borut Bozic (SVN) – Astana
5) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
6) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha
7) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr
8) Thor Hushovd (NOR) – BMC Racing
9) Geert Steegmans (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
10) Moreno Hofland (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling
1) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano – 13.14.01hrs
2) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr +8”
3) Moreno Hofland (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +12”
4) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar +18”
5) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +21”
6) Bryan Coquard (FRA) – Europcar +22”
7) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha – ST
8) Nikolay Trusov (RUS) – Tinkoff-Saxo
9) Samuel Dumoulin (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
10) Marco Marcato (ITA) – Cannondale