(Above photos: ©Vareel Patel/onev.com.au
Edward Theuns bettered his stage one finish with a fifth place after a near-perfect leadout from the team, while Ruben Guerreiro also snuck into the top 10, finishing 9th, to safeguard his best young rider's jersey for another day.
Stage three in the Santos Tour Down Under favored the sprinters and the projected bunch finish played out when the last rider of a four-man breakaway, controlled carefully during the 144-kilometer race, was caught in the final kilometers.
In the ensuing sprint, there was no stopping the on-form Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), who made it three for three in the bunched endings; instead, the battle was in his wake. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) edged out his best finish thus far with a second place while Edward Theuns sprinted over the line in fifth, an improvement from his eighth on the first day, but a disappointed Theuns knew they were closer to a better result.
"We were in perfect position in the last two kilometers," explained Theuns. "Mads [Pedersen] and Koen [de Kort] were there, and I was on their wheels. The last bend was sweeping, and Sky drifted to the outside of the corner, which I don't understand why they did this because we were ready to pass on the left of them. They drifted outside, and we lost a lot of meters there. We had to suddenly cut inside while the others got 10 meters for free since they were already on the inside of the corner."
"I was boxed in, and couldn't really push my sprint until the end. Fifth again," he sighed. "I think we can do more. It was a great leadout train that brought me perfectly, and we just need a little more luck. It's probably hard to beat Caleb Ewan, but the top three is possible."
Trek-Segafredo positioning was close to textbook: the black and red pinstriped pushed their way to the front and led the way until Team Sky took over with around 1.5- kilometers remaining. De Kort and Theuns settled in just behind; it was all going to plan until the final sweeping right-hander.
So, I started going around them on the left, but for some reason, I don't really know why, they moved to the left side.
"We planned to stay together and stay calm, especially with the wind," added de Kort. "I think we could have waited even a little bit longer, but it worked out well. We went to the front, and we still had three guys. Mads did a great job until 1.5kms to go, and then Sky came past, and I let them in so I could sit on the wheel of Danny Van Poppel.
"I was waiting for the last 600m because I knew that I still had a lot of power, and I expected them to do the leadout on the right-hand side, taking the inside of the corner. That seemed very logical to me. So, I started going around them on the left, but for some reason, I don't really know why, they moved to the left side. Then, on the right, a lot of guys came past. It was unfortunate and I couldn't get through.
"I really thought we had it perfect. It was a little bit unforeseen circumstances and I have never actually seen that before. It was a little bit interesting… But Eddy still did his sprint, and we were up there again as a team. We showed ourselves again, and we are still progressing."
While De Kort and Theuns fought a fierce battle on the front lines, Guerreiro quietly positioned himself just behind, and sprinted to 9th place. The young neo-pro continues to impress in his first WorldTour race and will wear the white jersey into stage four tomorrow.