Spanish youngster Luis Sanchez (20, Liberty Seguros) on Thursday claimed the stage win and in the process the coveted leader’s yellow jersey on the 139km third stage of the Tour Down Under from the bay side suburb of Glenelg to the sea side town of Victor Harbor in Australia.
A massive crowd of 95 000 turned out to support the high class international field as it raced it’s way from bay to ocean. Sanchez crossed the line in a time of 3hr19min39sec outsprinting 22 year old Belgian Johan Van Summeren after the pair broke away from a lead group of 26 riders with 15 kilometres remaining in the stage.
Australian Gene Bates (22, UniSA) led home the rest of the leader’s 16 seconds later for third place.
"I didn’t really go out with that intention (to win). I went out because Stu O’Grady was following Allan Davis around and I thought I would make a move and tire Stuart O’Grady out," said Sanchez. "It made the other teams work a bit and eventually that’s just the way it worked out.
"I did really good training in the winter, but I didn’t really come here with the idea of winning," he said noting his team director Manolo Saiz comments before his arrival in South Australia. "Manolo told me I was going to come here and the race was going to put me in form.
"Manolo spoke very highly about the Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under so that’s why I came here with the confidence to do well."
But Sanchez was cagey about his chances of holding the lead through to the end and admitted his original role was to help teammate Allan davis, who is currently placed third overall, in the sprints.
"We’ll wait and see," said Sanchez who in his first year as a professional in 2004 placed second in the time trial at the Spanish Championships. "A lot of the race might be decided on bonifications (bonus seconds on stage finishes and intermediate sprints), so obviously it’s a real help that Allan is going fast as well."
Davis was ecstatic that his team mate was in the race lead.
"I’m just as pleased for him to be in the lead as what I’d be for myself," said Davis. "He’s a big talent, he’s a second year pro so get used to his name.
"He’s a ’good bloke’, down to earth and very professional," said Davis, admitting the pressure was on the team to perform on Thursday. "We had four in the break, so if we didn’t get one up the road we would have been on the end of a whip tonight."
"The whole team has felt good since the start of the criterium on Tuesday night and we tried to get in all the breakaways.
"We were expecting a tough start to the stage and that’s what happened - full credit to the guys, they were in everything today and it worked out well.
"I’m not frustrated at all (at not being the star today) - we work as a team. It’s not for one, it’s for everyone.
"We just made sure we watched the breaks and the one who we wanted up the road was him (Sanchez), so it worked out good.
Asked if Sanchez can hold on: "I think he can, it’s going to be hard and you never count your chickens before they hatch, but he’s done a lot of training.
"We’ve got a big job ahead of us, it’s hard to say, but we’re in with a good chance anyway.
Action started early in the stage and it wasn’t long before the 26 riders formed a decisive break leaving behind the overnight leader and winner of the opening two stages, Tour de France sprint star Robbie McEwen (Davitamon Lotto). Also left behind was the entire Quickstep team but all other teams were represented.
The lead hovered around the one minute mark as the leaders contested the only climb of the day up Sellicks Hill at the 43.7km mark. UniSA rider Gene Bates took the points ahead of Irish champion David O’Loughlin (Navigators) with Australian David McPartland (United Water) third.
By the 50 kilometre mark the lead group had a margin of more than five minutes and from there the gap continued to increase.
At the Mt Compass intermediate sprint at 66.7km Paride Grillo (Ceramiche Panaria) claimed the bonus ahead of Australian Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros) and Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) and at the second intermediate sprint at Goolwa (92km) Davis pipped Grillo with O’Grady again third.
But as the leaders headed into the final 40 kilometres to Victor Harbour Sanchez and Van Summeren struck out to get the jump on their rivals building up a solid advantage as they battled the wind to the finish line.
The main field, including the overnight leader McEwen, pedalled in 31min56sec later with McEwen placing 52nd on the stage.
Sanchez will wear the Jacob’s Creek leader’s jersey into Fridays stage four, 152km from Unley to Hahndorf, two seconds ahead of Van Summeren with Allan Davis running third 13 seconds behind the leader.
The SA Lotteries sprint classification is being led by Australian Allan Davis while Gene Bates will wear the Laubman and Pank King of the Mountain Jersey. Sanchez is also leading the Share the Road Under 23 category and Van Summeren was awarded the daily Century 21 Most Aggressive Rider jersey. Liberty Seguros is on top in the Sensational Adelaide leading teams classification.