Giro stage 3: Hesjedal shows panache, Paolini takes pink

Stage 3: Sorrento to Marina di Ascea, 222km

Katusha’s Luca Paolini seized his maiden victory in his first ever Giro appearance. The 36-year-old veteran showed that Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali is not the only Italian who can descend well as he slipped away from the splintered peloton on the final descent 7km from home. He managed to open a 16-second gap over the chasing group by the time he crossed the finish line. Once the 20 bonus seconds for winning were taken into account, he had gained enough time to take over the maglia rosa.

Write off Cadel Evans (BMC) at your peril. The former Tour de France winner took the sprint for second from the 16-man chasing group containing many of the contenders. Defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) was third, claiming a handy eight-second bonus which was the least he deserved for animating the race with an aggressive ride on both sides of the final summit.

Sky’s Bradley Wiggins was briefly gapped but regained touch with the lead group without problems, but a number of top riders – among them Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) and Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) – lost time after off-road excursions on the hair-raising chase downhill.

VeloVoices rider Ryder of the day

Without underplaying the achievement of Luca Paolini in adding to a personally successful 2013 which already includes victory in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and fifth at Milan-San Remo, my rider of the day is defending champion Ryder Hesjedal.

This could easily have been one of those stages where a determined attacker was allowed to claim victory while the top contenders neutralised the GC race to arrive at the finish unruffled. Hesjedal had other ideas, attacking repeatedly on both the final climb and its descent, forcing others to respond. The severity of his attacks was evidenced by the number of crashes which occurred among a chasing pack that was strung out over several hundred metres of hillside.

Many have been quick to dismiss Hesjedal as a one-hit wonder. Here he made a firm statement about both his form and his determination to defend his crown with power, bravery and panache. Chapeau.

Hesjedal showed all the qualities which made him champion last year (Image: Giro website)

Hesjedal showed all the qualities which made him champion last year (Image: Giro website)

Opinion & analysis

Having ‘accidentally’ inherited the maglia rosa after the team time trial in the form of Salvatore Puccio, it was always likely that Sky would look to offload the burden of defending the jersey at the first opportunity, but without giving up time to any of Bradley Wiggins‘ rivals. As it happened, this stage had the perfect profile to engineer such a hand-off. A couple of medium climbs selective enough to get rid of the sprinters, avoid a bunch gallop and create the opportunity for a breakaway winner, and with a technical downhill finish tricky enough to give someone a chance of making an attack stick.

Classics specialist Paolini duly obliged, taking a courageous and well-deserved win. If there was an element of his escape owing something to suiting the contenders’ agendas, it was nonetheless a skilled and hard attack which proved too hot for many, while Wiggins, Nibali, Hesjedal, Evans and Samuel Sanchez all finished safely together.

Wiggins was briefly distanced on the descent as he adopted a ‘safety first’ approach which ultimately seemed wise given the misfortune that befell others. With the last few kilometres relatively benign the front groups were always likely to come back together again before the finish. However, Sky’s hesitancy will have been noted by skilled descenders such as Nibali and Sanchez, as will the fact that only one of Wiggins’ two key mountain lieutenants (Rigoberto Uran) maintained contact, with Sergio Henao rolling in 20 seconds behind his leader. You can hear the sound of plots being hatched for the descent of the Stelvio on stage 19 …

Stage 3 result

1. Luca Paolini (Katusha) 5:43:50

2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +0:16

3. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) same time

4. Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) s/t

5. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t

General classification

1. Luca Paolini (Katusha) 9:04:32

2. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +0:17

3. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) same time

4. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) +0:26

5. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +0:31

6. Valerio Agnoli (Astana) s/t

7. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) +0:34

8. Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) +0:36

9. Yury Trofimov (Katusha) s/t

10. Sergio Henao (Sky) +0:37

Link: Official website

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