CALVI, Corsica — Australian sprinter Simon Gerrans held off a late charge by Peter Sagan to win Monday’s hilly third stage of the Tour de France by less than half a wheel.
Belgian rider Jan Bakelants did enough in the sweltering heat to keep the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Gerrans looked to have the finish line in sight with about 100 meters to go, though the Slovakian rider put on a late sprint and almost caught him.
But Gerrans dug deep to clinch his second career Tour stage win. Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas finished third.
“Sagan is a guy who can often climb with the best climbers and sprint with the best sprinter, so I’m really thrilled to be able to beat such a classy rider,” Gerrans said. “I surprised quite a few people a little bit today, including myself.”
Gerrans shouldn’t be too surprised, though, as he had prepared well.
“This is a stage that I’ve been targeting for quite some time,” he said. “We were down here in Corsica last weekend doing a recon and scouting the finishes and it all paid off today.”
Although Gerrans has clinched a stage win on all three Grand Tours, his previous stage win on “Le Tour” was five years ago — when it actually finished in the northern Italian ski resort of Prato Nevoso.
He was slowing up but just managed one last effort to throw his bike forward the way a 100-meter runner would dip for the line.
“I wasn’t sure if I had won — a half-wheel length?!” Gerrans said. “All went perfectly well, my team took great care of me after the last climb.”
He will also need to thank his countryman and teammate Simon Clarke, who placed himself in the early breakaway.
“It was the team plan. I was brought to the Tour de France to join breakaways, so I made sure I did my job,” Clarke said. “I was quite relaxed today and when you’re relaxed it means you have good legs.”
It was a particularly welcome win for Gerrans’ Orica Greenedge team after the confusion of Saturday’s first stage, when the team bus was stuck on the finish line and removed moments before the riders arrived.
“We saw the footage,” Gerrans said. “You really can’t do (anything) but laugh at the situation. (Our driver) did a fantastic job, we are proud of him. He was embarrassed so we felt quite sad for him.”
Sagan is in the coveted sprinter’s green jersey he is expected to contest with British sprinter Mark Cavendish, who is 49 points behind.
“I’m a bit sad about the stage, but the team’s objective is to get the green jersey and that’s what we have,” Sagan, a Slovak, said through a translator. “I don’t feel at my best yet. But the Tour is long and there are still a lot of good stages to come.”
Bakelants, the winner of Sunday’s second stage, finished in 19th place.
“The team worked very hard for me, and I’m very happy to keep the yellow jersey,” Bakelants said. “It was a very hot day and the conditions were not easy.”
Monday’s 90-mile trek started from Ajaccio, where French emperor and military mastermind Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769, and finished in Calvi after three moderate climbs and a steeper last climb tested the legs of the peloton.
Gerrans clocked about 3 hours, 40 minutes.
It was the last of the trio of Corsican stages before the race heads to mainland France for Tuesday’s team time trial in Nice, where race favorite Chris Froome’s Sky team are expected to challenge for the win.
“There are some strong teams out there,” Froome said.
With the Tour heading through Corsica for the first time, some fans got their first glimpse of the showcase race — and made a point of getting noticed. One defied the heat to dress up in a full Napoleon outfit, saluting from the roadside.
Further on, a man held up a Coriscan flag as he rode on horseback alongside the rolling pack.
But the riders were concentrating too hard to notice.
“Twisty roads like that along the coast, stunning scenery,” Froome said. “I’m sure it made for great shots from the helicopter, but that’s not what we were interested in."