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Tirreno-Adriatico stage 3: Mathieu van der Poel tops Wout van Aert in tight sprint

Mathieu van der Poel sprinted past Wout van Aert to win stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico to net his third road victory of 2021.

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Dutch champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) surfed the wheels of rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and then unleashed an explosive sprint to win Friday’s stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico into Gualdo Tadino.

The sprint victory brings van der Poel his third road victory of 2021. On Thursday, van der Poel finished a close second to Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) in a tight sprint.

“I was really happy. I was a bit frustrated about myself about my mistake yesterday and I wanted to make it right today,” van der Poel said at the finish. “I was really happy to take the win, especially after the team did an amazing job today to close the gap to the first group.”

Van Aert finished second place to defend his overall lead in the general classification.

The thrilling finish came at the tail end of a hilly 219km day that saw a major pileup with 3km to go take out a handful of contenders. Cameras caught sight of an Astana rider overlapping wheels in the bunch and hitting the deck — the ensuing pileup took down multiple riders, including Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers).

The stage finished with a slight uphill ramp before the finish, and Deceuninck-Quick-Step launched the decisive move inside 1km to go. As Alaphilippe slowed down, Czech rider and Alaphilippe’s teammate Zdeněk Štybar attacked off the front and grabbed a sizable gap, and the acceleration forced van Aert to close the gap himself. Van Aert’s surge drew out van der Poel and Sergio Higuita (EF Education-Nippo), and in the final kick to the line, van der Poel was able to come around his longtime rival, van Aert.

“Wout immediately reacted to it otherwise it could have been dangerous,” van der Poel said about the move. “I think I just made the right decision to follow. It was a really hard sprint and it went uphill a bit. After such a long sprint it hurt.”

How it happened

A five-man break of Mark Padun (Bahrain-Victorious), Davide Bais (EOLO-Kometa), Tobias Ludvigsson (Groupama-FDJ), Guillaume Boivin (Israel Start-Up Nation), and Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Énergie) escaped but was kept under watch when they topped nine minutes’ advantage by Alpecin-Fenix. Neither Deceuninck-Quick-Step nor Jumbo-Visma showed interest in taking up the chase.

Meanwhile, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) abandoned the race suffering from digestive issues.

With more than two hours and nearly 110km of racing remaining this gap posed a threat, and so van der Poel started to do the work to bring back the escapees.

Nearly 20km later — with about 80km to go — over the only climb, the gap to the break has been reduced to three-and-one-half-minutes, but after a further 20km, the gap was extended to nearly six minutes.

At this point, Deceuninck-Quick-Step did come to the front to help Alpecin-Fenix with the chase to continue on for the following 50km.

Near the 10km to go kite, Ludvigsson and Bais cracked on a slight uptilt in the road, leaving Terpstra and the other two to try to fight to the end.

This distanced was halved, and the peloton was just 20 seconds back of the remains of the break when Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck-Quick-Step were organized on the front, along with a few Alpecin-Fenix riders.

The crash near the front at 3.5km disrupted the bunch, but not the overall race leaders.

Former cyclocross world champion Štybar riding in support of Alaphilippe launched his final attack and was chased by the other ‘cross kings van Aert and van der Poel. Štybar gapped his teammate, and realizing this, momentarily eased up.

“Wout immediately reacted, otherwise it could have been dangerous, but I think I did the right thing by waiting,” said van der Poel.

This pace gave opportunity to van der Poel, who surfed wheels and closed the final 200m with a massive kick, distancing himself from Alaphilippe and van Aert.

“I was surprised by the move by Alaphilippe, which was kind of smart,” said van Aert. “But if I still wanted the victory I had to react, and unfortunately I took Mathieu on my wheel, which was at that point a waste of energy.”

Tadej Pogačar finished 10th on the stage and took over the white jersey for best young rider. He is in fifth overall, 20 seconds behind van Aert.

“I’m happy for the white jersey,” said Pogačar. “Tomorrow’s the hardest stage, and I feel good, so we look forward [to] tomorrow, and I hope for good legs.”

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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