Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) finished off a perfect team lead-out to sprint into the overall lead on stage three of Paris-Nice.
“Bling” showed the strength and sprinting prowess which earned him two Grand Tour stage wins in similar circumstances last year, on the uphill finish into Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule.
Matthews was led out perfectly and had more than enough strength to hold off Davide Cimolai (Lamore-Merida) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) and take victory.
And the ten-second bonus for winning was enough to overhaul Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) by a single second and pull on the maillot jaune.
The stage, despite its largely flat profile, had clearly caught the imagination of the bigger names in the peloton with Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) in the day’s break and Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) among the early counter-attackers.
Wiggins’ was unable to bridge the gap, however, as Gilbert and Florient Vachon (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) built up a lead which they held through the first intermediate sprint and over the day’s lone categorised climb.
Having taken the climb on, however, and with Gilbert and Vachon losing some of their initiative, Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) made a successful bid to join them.
With the extra fire-power – and the peloton happy to let them go – the three stretched their lead back out to more than five minutes.
Wiggins was among those driving hard on the front of the bunch, continuing to test his legs ahead of the Classics, though and the break was soon reeled back in as the lap of the finishing circuit approached.
Gilbert sat up first, and Vachon – after some animated chatting with Voeckler – also resigned himself to his fate.
With the race back together, however, it set the tone for more counter-attacking with Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) catching Voeckler before the Ag2r-La Mondiale duo of Romain Bardet and Jan Bakelants bridged.
Relatively fresh – and with points to prove given the negative doping headlines their respective teams have attracted – the three dropped Voeckler and went on-and-through with great aplomb to build up a 16-second advantage.
As with the previous day, Orica-GreenEDGE led the chase however and – with the sprint teams forming – the trio were reabsorbed into the peloton shy of the flamme rouge.
The Australian team ramped the pace up to keep the peloton strung out as they hit the uphill kick to the finish with Matthews at fourth wheel.
And the hard work paid off as Matthews led the sprint out on a finish perfectly suited to him and never looked like being overhauled.
Paris-Nice 2015: stage three – result
1) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 4.32.11hrs
2) Davide Cimolai (ITA) – Lampre-Merida – ST
3) Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA) – Trek Factory Racing
4) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha
5) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
6) Moreno Hofland (NED) – Team LottoNL-Jumbo
7) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – Cofidis
8) Bryan Coquard (FRA) – Team Europcar
9) Arnaud Demare (FRA) – FDJ
10) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Alpecin
1) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 14.25.26hrs
2) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Etixx-QuickStep +1”
3) Rohan Dennis (AUS) – BMC Racing – ST
4) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Alpecin +3”
5) Tony Martin (GER) – Etixx-QuickStep +8”
6) Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) – Astana +11”
7) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – IAM Cycling – ST
8) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Alpecin +14”
9) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – ST
10) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing