Giro d'Italia stage 3: Tim Merlier takes chaotic win after Pogačar and Thomas go on the attack

Maglia rosa caught just before the line after a tense finale

Clock15:22, Monday 6th May 2024
Tim Merlier wins stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia

© Getty Images

Tim Merlier wins stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia

Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) powered to victory on the first sprint stage of the 2024 Giro d’Italia, after the peloton just caught a last-minute move from race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) in the final few hundred metres.

On a day that should have been nailed-on bunch finish, Pogačar and Thomas launched off the front of the peloton on an uncategorised climb with 3km to go, and looked like they could upset the sprinters, but were closed down in the sprint to the line, with Merlier emerging fastest.

Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek) took second just a small margin behind the Belgian, with Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) taking third.

The short climb in the finale had been talked about as a potential disruptor for some of the sprinters, but in fact it was a full-blown GC attack that unfurled, initially launched by Mikkel Honoré (EF Education-EasyPost), who the pink jersey and Thomas followed then quickly dropped.

Sensing a chance to take time on their rivals, the pair worked together in the final 2km, but could not quite hold off the charging peloton of sprint trains who came around them in the final straight.

Read more: Giro d’Italia: Tadej Pogačar ‘is kicking my head in’ says Geraint Thomas

After working so hard to close the gap, there were few organised lead-outs in the finale, with Lidl-Trek the most organised but most riders having to surf wheels for themselves, and five riders fanning across the road on the line, with Merlier just getting his wheel in front.

"It was the hardest victory so far!" Merlier said at the finish. "It was a really hard final, in the last kilometre I never found a good slipstream, so I was always in the wind. In the last 300m I heard ‘you need to go’, also Milan was starting his sprint on the left side, I knew I was gonna be first or second and I’m happy to win this one."

The stage started in a subdued manner, with no breakaway forming, but things did kick off in the middle of the stage when a group of 25 sprinters and their teammates pushed on after an intermediate sprint, and got a jump on the peloton.

However, they were eventually chased down, and things came back together for the final 40km. Though the run-in was far from conventional for a sprint finish thanks to Pogačar and Thomas’ aggression, the sprint teams did ultimately get their way in Fossano.

"[We made] a good choice to pace on the last hill, I wanted to move but had to wait a bit longer than I wanted but in the end it was a good situation. Mauri Vansevanant was there, Julian Alaphilippe was there, Luke Lamperti was there, they all did a great job," Merlier said.

The Belgian had been in the group of sprinters that broke away, but was happy to see things regroup.

"We were away with around 20, 25 guys. Only myself and Luke [Lamperti] were in so it was not a good situation because other teams got more guys in, so it was right to slow down the group a bit. In the end it was the right decision.”

Pogačar finished in the bunch to maintain his lead in the overall classification.

A quiet start to the day after a hard weekend

After two hard and hectic days of racing to open the Giro, it was perhaps not surprising that the peloton seized the chance to finally take it easy in the first part of the day on Monday. When the flag dropped, there was no immediate fight for the breakaway, with the bunch instead keeping the pace up but rolling through calm and collected on the front, whilst riders chatted and relaxed further down the group.

Alpecin-Deceuninck and Intermarché-Wanty were claiming their spot at the front of the bunch, setting early expectations for the finale. The situation remained fairly steady for the first hour of racing, with nothing in terms of attacks or challenges on the road.

With 116km to go, and 5km til the first and only categorised climb of the day, KoM hopeful Lilian Calmejane (Intermarché-Wanty) attacked through a town and rolled off the front, tempting three riders to follow him, but with an Alpecin-Deceuninck rider in the mix, Lidl-Trek closed this move down. However, Calmejane was still keen to get away before the climb, and counter-attacked with Davide Ballerini (Astana Qazaqstan) shortly after, and this duo was allowed to get up the road.

Calmejane picked up maximum points over the climb, and then dropped back having achieved his goal, leaving Ballerini alone. In the peloton, Jasper Stuyven (Lidl-Trek) accelerated over the top of the climb, which briefly split the peloton in a burst of action, but things were back together quickly.

With 98km, Ballerini sat up, and rejoined the peloton soon after as the calm resumed.

Intermediate sprint kicks off action as fast men break away

At the first intermediate sprint of the day, the fast men had their first opportunity to face off against each other, and it was Jonathan Milan who took maximum points ahead of Edward Planckaert (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Olav Kooij.

However, it was what happened after the sprint that was more interesting. The sprinters had ridden hard to the intermediate, and as a result split off the front of the peloton, and the gap quickly ballooned out to a minute and a half as the peloton were perhaps a tad too relaxed, and didn’t realise how hard the sprinters were pushing on. With 80km to go, some 25 riders were ahead, including most of the sprint favourites – such as Milan, Kooij, Merlier, Groves, Girmay, Ewan, Andresen and Van Poppel – whilst Pogačar and the overall hopefuls were behind. No threatening GC rider had snuck into the front group.

At the next sprint, Milan took maximum points again, ahead of Groves who had had a good lead-out from his teammates in the group, but couldn’t get past the Italian who came from a long way down. In the peloton, it was Polti-Kometa, Movistar and Bahrain-Victorious who were working on the front, and the gap was beginning to come down.

With 60km to go, the pace in the peloton was putting riders in trouble and things split up, with Cian Uijtdebroeks (Visma-Lease a Bike) one of the riders caught out, finding himself about 30 seconds down on the main peloton. This group had to chase back on for over 10km, but did eventually rejoin the main group.

Up front, the leaders’ gap was down to 25 seconds, which saw the cooperation in the group start to splinter as some riders wanted to push on, and others wanted to save themselves for the expected sprint finish. The front group were caught with 43km to go as things recalibrated for the finale.

All roads point to a bunch sprint, but Pogačar almost causes an upset

With 30km to go, the peloton was already in team order, with the sprint squads lining up early as things started to wind up for the finish, though not before a third and final intermediate sprint, this time somewhat uphill with bonus seconds available.

In the sprint, both Ineos Grenadiers and race leader Pogačar were keen to grab some seconds, with Ineos’ Ben Swift taking the maximum three seconds ahead of the pink jersey, and Geraint Thomas came across the line third after not coming round his teammate. From here, the GC riders handed over to the sprinters for the first time in this Giro.

The GC teams didn’t totally sit back though, with Ineos and UAE Team Emirates keeping their leaders safe in the front of the charging peloton before the 3km-to-go safety mark. Hitting the much talked about rise in the final 5km, the peloton was beginning to shrink slightly as riders slipped back in the face of the high pace.

On the climb, with 3km to go, Mikkel Honoré attacked near the top, which lured Pogačar and Thomas into following him, and this trio got a jump on the bunch, with Pogačar and Thomas moving through to the front and quickly dropping Honoré. The pair then worked with each other, trying to steal a march on their GC rivals, but ultimately the hungry sprint teams proved too fast, and the peloton surged around the leaders in the final 500m.

Milan had the best lead-out in what was a very hectic sprint, but Merlier chose the right lines to be able to launch his sprint at the right moment and speed to the line just ahead of the Italian, with Girmay rounding out the top three by coming up on the inside.

Keep up to date with the latest tech news on the GCN website. For everything you need to know about the 2024 Giro d'Italia, from the history of the race to this year's route and start list, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub.

Race Results

1

be flag

MERLIER Tim

Soudal Quick-Step

3H 54' 35"

2

it flag

MILAN Jonathan

Lidl-Trek

"

3

er flag

GIRMAY Biniam

Intermarché-Wanty

"

4

be flag

BIERMANS Jenthe

ARKEA-B&B HOTELS

"

5

dk flag

LUND ANDRESEN Tobias

Team dsm-firmenich PostNL

"

6

nl flag

KOOIJ Olav

Team Visma | Lease a Bike

"

7

gb flag

VERNON Ethan

Israel-Premier Tech

"

8

pl flag

ANIOLKOWSKI Stanislaw

Cofidis

"

9

co flag

GAVIRIA Fernando

Movistar Team

"

10

it flag

DAINESE Alberto

Tudor Pro Cycling Team

"

Provided by FirstCycling

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2 Jun - 9 Jun

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