Cadel Evans soloed into the ochre jersey after a perfectly-timed attack on Corkscrew Hill saw the Australian win stage three of the Tour Down Under.
Evans attacked an elite leading group on the 14 per cent ramps of the climb before dropping Richie Porte (Team Sky) to earn a small advantage, which he held on the fast, downhill finish into Campbelltown.
Evans made his move on the steep, twisting ascent with Porte initially the only rider strong enough to go with him.
However Evans’ pace proved too much for his compatriot, with previous race leader Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) bridging to join the Team Sky man in pursuit of the former world champion.
Their chase amounted to nothing, however, with a group which included stage two winner Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) catching the duo as Evans stayed clear to earn his first WorldTour stage victory since the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine.
The 145km stage proved to be a stage for veterans, with 42-year-old German hardman Jens Voigt joining the day’s break.
Travis Meyer (Drapac) instigated the attack, with Jerome Cousin (Europcar) and five-time Ukrainian champion Andriy Grivko (Astana) following the Australian.
With little reaction in the bunch, Voigt picked his moment to bridge and the four-man group held a steady lead around the 90-second mark for much of the early parts of the race.
With Grivko sat just 21 seconds back overall, however, the break was never likely to succeed as Orica-GreenEDGE hit the front of the bunch.
A visibly exhausted Cousin sat up and returned to the main field with 52km remaining, although the remaining escapees’ lead did extend to between two and three minutes.
Orica-GreenEDGE were forced to do the majority of the work throughout the day but as Corkscrew Hill approached Lotto-Belisol and Team Sky hit the front of the bunch to reel in the remaining escapees.
Despite Voigt’s efforts up the road, which earned him the combativity award, the race was brought back together with around 15km to go.
It set up a flurry of attacks from the GC contenders, with several teams putting riders on the front as a furious pace was set on the approach to Corkscrew Hill.
And it was Evans who proved strongest, timing his attack to perfection to move into the overall lead.
Climbing out of the saddle, Australia’s first Tour de France winner comprehensively dropped Porte on the hairpins of the ascent to set a speed of more than 24km/h on the climb and held his lead on the fast descent.
With two team-mates in the pursuing group, Evans’ lead never looked in doubt as he savoured the victory in Campbelltown.
Garmin-Sharp’s Nathan Haas won the bunch sprint for second with Ulissi taking third – denying Simon Gerrans any time bonuses in the process. Geraint Thomas also finished in the front group to sit sixth overall, 29 seconds behind Evans.
Haas’ team-mate Rohan Dennis and Movistar’s Javier Moreno both saw their overall ambitions shattered after they lost significant time on the leaders.
It leaves Evans with a 12-second advantage over second-placed Gerrans ahead of the fourth stage, from Unley to Victor Harbour, on Friday.
Tour Down Under 2014: stage three – report
1) Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC Racing in 3:34:05hrs
2) Nathan Haas (AUS) Garmin-Sharp +15”
3) Diego Ulissi (ITA) Lampre-Merida – same time
4) Adam Hansen (AUS) Lotto-Belisol
5) Simon Gerrans (AUS) Orica-GreenEDGE
6) Rory Sutherland (AUS) Tinkoff-Saxo
7) Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing
8) Ben Hermans (BEL) BMC Racing
9) Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEDGE
10) Robert Gesink (NED) Belkin
1) Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC Racing in 10:46:39hrs
2) Simon Gerrans (AUS) Orica-GreenEDGE +12”
3) Diego Ulissi (ITA) Lampre-Merida +15”
4) Nathan Haas (AUS) Garmin-Sharp +27”
5) Robert Gesink (NED) Belkin +29”
6) Geraint Thomas (GBR) Team Sky – same time
7) Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEDGE +33”
8) Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing – same time
9) Rory Sutherland (AUS) Tinkoff-Saxo
10) Ben Hermans (BEL) BMC Racing
11) Richie Porte (AUS) Team Sky – same time