Lars Boom, former world Cyclo-Cross champion, took the third stage of the 2011 Tour of Britain in a tight finish into Stoke on Trent and, with it, the overall leader's jersey.
Earlier, the Sky team had looked in control of the stage, chasing down a dangerous break and then splitting the field before sending Alex Dowsett away in the closing miles on a solo move which came close to succeeding. However, as things came back together at the finish, it was Rabobank's Boom who had the kick to win up the awkward climb to the line.
Lars Boom celebrates winning stage 3 for Rabobank
Stage 3 Slideshow
Stage 3 Report
With the winds abating sufficiently to allow racing to resume, the Tour of Britain got back on track with the third stage that started and finished in Stoke on Trent. After the fierce winds of Monday, it was a relief for everyone to see the race roll out on clear and breezy morning, though the suspicion was that the winds would still be powerful enough to influence proceedings.
As so often happens, there was an early test of the peloton's nerves as seven riders, including Ian Bibby, Kristian House and Simon Richardson attacked, but they were soon brought back as the race entered the rolling countryside to the south of Stoke that marked the first third of the stage.
No sooner had they been reeled in than three more riders made their bid for freedom, namely Russell Hampton (Sigma Sport), Andrew Fenn, (AN Post/Sean Kelly) and Boy Van Poppel (United Healthcare).
Hampton had been active throughout the opening stage and was soon adding to his points tally in the Sprints competition, taking third at both Stone and Uttoxeter as the breakaway group rapidly grew their lead to three minutes.
Going over the top of the first King of the Mountains summit, the Ramshorn, to the north of Uttoxeter, the lead topped out at almost three and a half minutes, but that was as big as it got.
With a stiff breeze coming in from the riders' left (the West) as they traversed a lengthy stretch of upland roads between the Ramshorn and Gun Hill, near Leek, the Sky team moved to the front of the main peloton and began a concerted chase.
With cross-winds making positioning in the field all-important, splits began to appear in the peloton, though race leader Mark Cavendish was making sure he was near the front throughout. The gap to the break was soon falling rapidly.
The pace of the chase and the cross-winds eventually made a split at the front inevitable and the Pro Tour Teams were, on the whole, the ones to benefit, with Sky, Leopard Trek, HTC and Rabobank all represented in a group of about 15 who were soon in danger of pulling away from the rest of the race.
Back at the front and Fenn was the first rider to crack, but Locke of Rapha Condor Sharp took the opportunity to move across to Van Poppel and Hampton to give them new hope. However, it was only short lived and they soon accepted the inevitable and sat up and waited to join a swelling lead group of some 25 riders.
The race had effectively shattered, with ragged echelons of riders strewn along the road for a couple of miles. Up front, as the names in the lead group became clear, it was increasingly obvious how the Pro Tour teams had asserted their authority: Sky had Thomas, Dowsett, Hayman, Cummings, Rogers and Swift, whilst Leopard Trek had three riders, HTC had Cavendish and two others; whilst Rabobank had Boom and Matthews.
Meanwhile, Bibby of Motorpoint and Craven and Tiernan-Locke (Rapha Condor Sharp) were doing their best to keep the domestic teams in the race.
With just 15km to the finish, Sky sent Dowsett on a lone attack which soon gained the Time Trial specialist a gap of 10 seconds. This, in turn, forced HTC to do most of the work, leaving five Sky riders sitting comfortably behind them.
Dowsett has had a great season and he soon had his lead up to 25 seconds as the chasers struggled to come to terms with his pace and the effects of Sky's earlier pace setting. Dowsett worked the gap out to over 20 seconds and it looked like he would hold on, only for the chasers to finally catch him with a kilometre to go.
The finish into Stoke is notoriously awkward, climbing and twisting - not a finish to suit the pure sprinters - and it was Rabobank's Lars Boom who was the strongest, claiming the win from team-mate Michael Matthews, with Geraint Thomas third, Steve Cummings fourth and Mark Cavendish fifth.
Following the race win, Boom noted his stage research which paid dividends in the finale.
"Today was a tricky finish, I saw the route pictures in the road book so I knew it was going to be tricky, I tried to sort the sprint for Michael (Matthews) but I got the victory; it was nice that he got second. Also winning today means I also get the IG Markets yellow jersey which is nice. I am feeling very good at the moment so i will try to defend the jersey."
Stage 3 Rider Feedback On Twitter
Russell Hampton: "Well I didn't think the last two days could of got better but somehow it did! Was amazing riding up gun hill in the mountains jersey!!"
Zak Dempster: "Disappointed in myself for not making that split today..."
Liam Holohan: "That confirmed my suspicion that I'm not cut out for doing 65kph in the cross wind."
Andy Tennant: "well tob stage 3 wasnt my best day out with a big crash just before the pelton smashed it and split to pieces. made my way back to peloton"
Ian Wilkinson: "and that, sports fans, is how to get your ass dropped in x winds"
Alex Dowsett: "I tried!! Was caught inside 2k to go. Took my life into my own hands cornering with 7 police motorbikes around me"
Stage 3 Results
1 Lars Boom Rabobank 3h 23' 42''
2 Michael Matthews** Rabobank st
3 Geraint Thomas Sky ProCycling st
4 Stephen Cummings Sky ProCycling st
5 Mark Cavendish HTC Highroad st
6 Ian Bibby Motorpoint st
7 Jonathan Tiernan Locke Rapha Condor - Sharp st
8 Jelle Wallays** Topsport Vlaanderen st
9 Linus Gerdemann Leopard Trek st
10 Andrew Fenn** An Post - Sean Kelly st
11 Daniel Lloyd Team Garmin - Cervelo st
12 Leopold Koenig Team NetApp st
13 Dominic Klemme Leopard Trek st
14 Iker Camano Endura Racing st
15 Jan-Bert Lindeman** Vacansoleil - DCM st
16 Joost Posthuma Leopard Trek st
17 Jan Barta Team NetApp st
18 Bram Tankink Rabobank st
19 Boy Van Poppel UnitedHealthcare st
20 Michael Rogers Sky ProCycling at 0' 7''
1 Lars Boom Rabobank 8h 4' 35''
2 Mark Cavendish HTC Highroad at 0' 3''
3 Geraint Thomas Sky ProCycling at 0' 6''
4 Michael Matthews** Rabobank at 0' 7''
5 Boy Van Poppel UnitedHealthcare at 0' 8''
6 Andrew Fenn** An Post - Sean Kelly st
7 Ian Bibby Motorpoint at 0' 13''
8 Linus Gerdemann Leopard Trek st
9 Stephen Cummings Sky ProCycling st
10 Daniel Lloyd Team Garmin - Cervelo st
11 Jan-Bert Lindeman** Vacansoleil - DCM st
12 Jelle Wallays** Topsport Vlaanderen st
13 Jan Barta Team NetApp st
14 Bram Tankink Rabobank st
15 Leopold Koenig Team NetApp st
16 Jonathan Tiernan Locke Rapha Condor - Sharp st
17 Joost Posthuma Leopard Trek st
18 Dominic Klemme Leopard Trek st
19 Michael Rogers Sky ProCycling at 0' 20''
20 Dan Craven Rapha Condor - Sharp at 0' 22''