Dylan Groenewegen sneaks Stage 3 as Wout van Aert is bridesmaid again at Tour de France
Stage 3 came down to a four-way battle between Dylan Groenewegen, Wout van Aert, Jasper Philipsen and Peter Sagan. Van Aert launched first but was too preoccupied with events on his immediate right as Sagan moved up his inside, with Groenewegen darting through on the line to win by the narrowest of margins. Philipsen took third ahead of Sagan, who wagged his finger at Van Aert after the finish.
Stage 3 highlights: Groenewegen claims biggest win since horror crash with Jakobsen
After almost three years in the WorldTour wilderness, Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) was back on top at the Tour de France as a less-than-likely winner of Stage 3.
Groenewegen beat Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) by a hair's breadth in the sprint, the Belgian rider finishing second for the third straight stage.
Before Sunday's final outing in Denmark, Groenewegen, who was suspended for nine months for causing the crash at the 2020 Tour of Poland that left Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) in a coma, had not won a WorldTour race since taking Stage 7 of the Tour in 2019.
Van Aert, who won the final two stages of the Tour last year, can take consolation from having extended his slender lead in the general classification. Six bonus seconds awarded for runner-up spot give him a relatively plump lead of seven over Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl). After easing through his first stage in the leader’s colours, the maillot jaune came under fire from the wagging finger of Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), who felt the Belgian had not left him enough room in the sprint.
'Massive gorilla off his back' – McEwen on Groenewegen’s comeback win
Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was also in the frame in an intriguing four-way sprint, eventually taking third ahead of a frustrated Sagan.
Despite Sagan's protests, it had been a relatively stress-free finale, containing no major incidents. A minor pile-up 10km from the finish separated around a third of riders from the main peloton, but all of the main stage and general classification contenders made it through unscathed.
All told, Sunday was, if not quite a day of rest for the riders, certainly a more relaxed affair than the hectic occasion served up on Stage 2. It was down to the Danish crowds, who again packed the streets, to generate the fervent atmosphere that the racing itself would not stimulate.
As he did on Saturday, though this time wearing the polka dot jersey, Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) darted up the road at the drop of the race director’s flag. For reasons known only to themselves, nobody went with him, leaving the Dane to a processional ride through his homeland, and the easiest of pick-ups of the first KOM point on offer.
The first 27km of the stage consisted of a loop around the start town of Vejle - known as the 'Manchester of Denmark', because of its cotton spinning industry - before heading south along the coast of the Jutland peninsula.
Cort soaked up the adulation from the home support. Half the nation seemed to have made their way to the roadside, as he tightened his grip on the King of the Mountains competition. Having originally expressed his intention to harvest just the first point, the size of his advantage by the summit of the Cote de Koldingvej meant there was no reason not to push on.
The gap maxed out at just over six minutes, but even by the second climb, as the peloton prepared for the intermediate sprint, it was still a very healthy three. The final 'climb', the Côte de Hejlsminde Strand, saw him go to six points in total. As there are only six available on Tuesday, and none at all on the cobbled Stage 5, he is all but guaranteed to wear the polka dots at least through Thursday.
‘Brilliant to see’ – Cort delights Danish crowd in polka dots
The intermediate sprint, which came at Christiansfeld with 92km of the stage remaining, was a rehearsal for the finale. After Cort picked up the first 20 points there too, Van Aert had team-mate Christophe Laporte on hand to help him to second across the line. Jakobsen was a bit boxed in by his own lead-out man, Michael Morkov, but still managed to come round for third place.
The second half of the stage was a merry roll south through Jutland. Magnus had no expectations or intentions of beating the bunch, so it was a matter of when he would be... Cort, rather than if. That moment arrived with 52km of the stage left, the renowned rouleur having spent a good three hours on his own, averaging 41kph. It was enough of an effort to ensure he would take the day's combativity prize as well for a second trip to the podium.
The final phase of the race was all about the big boys, who vigilantly marshalled the front of the peloton, keeping the pace high enough to deter any opportunist attacks and their own principals safe.
In the twisting final kilometres Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl's strong support riders accelerated, dragged the packed peloton into a long line. A pile-up with 10km to go caused problems for some - including, as it turned out, stage winner Groenewegen. His team were able to bring him back up and put him in a good position before the final left-hand bend. Although the 29-year-old found himself squeezed against the barriers, he made it safely onto the final straight.
Although Quick-Step controlled the run-in, Jakobsen was not able to retain the wheel of Morkov, and fell down the line behind most of his rivals. After Morkov moved aside, Van Aert attacked the sprint first, off the wheel of team-mate Laporte.
The yellow jersey looked to have the legs to take it to the line and may have managed it, but for an onrushing Groenwegen who negotiated the gaps, drew level and threw for the finish. Of the four riders who hurled themselves at the line it almost could have been any of them, but it was Groenewegen who took it by a tyre's width from Van Aert.
‘It was a hard time’ – Groenewegen on bouncing back from Jakobsen crash after Stage 3 win
The Dutchman was a picture of emotion at the finish, and almost lost for words. "It's beautiful," he said to ASO's Seb Piquet.
Asked if it was a struggle to get back to this level he replied that it was. "Not physically," he said, "but mentally it was hard, of course, after all that happened. This is for my wife and my son. It means a lot to me."
The Tour takes a break on Monday as the peloton heads to France.