Sir Bradley Wiggins remains in second overall after a tough end to the third stage of the Giro d’Italia. The British Cycling Olympic Podium Programme athlete finished eighth in an elite group of chasers as the race blew to pieces on the final third category Sella di Cantona.
Wiggins briefly sat in a lead group of just eight riders on the climb, only for things to regroup ahead of an incredibly technical descent into Marina di Ascea that saw a number of top riders caught out.
Luca Paolini (Katusha) stole away on the run for home and the Italian benefited from a good GC position to elevate himself into the maglia rosa, winning the stage by 16 seconds to create a 17-second overall lead.
Rigoberto Urán also finished alongside his Team Sky team-mate and slotted into third overall as the general classification received another shake-up. Sergio Henao was unlucky to lose time late on and finished 20 seconds back on the lead pack, moving him to tenth, 37 seconds behind a jubilant Paolini.
The closing stages saw the stage catch alight as Garmin-Sharp pushed hard onto the final ascent before defending champion Ryder Hesjedal launched the first of a number of attacks. The Canadian went on to finish third on the stage, just behind Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) in the sprint for the final podium places and bonus seconds.
The Race as it unfolded
Stage three took the riders away from the flat to a 222km medium mountain route from Sorrento to Marina di Ascea on the western coast of Italy.
A seven-man group containing Dirk Bellemakers (Lotto-Belisol), Fabio Taborre (Vini-Fantini), Manuele Boaro (Saxo-Tinkoff), Willem Wauters (Vacansoleil-DCM), Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia), Bert De Backer (Argos-Shimano) and Jackson Rodriguez (Androni - Venezuela) broke clear of the peloton almost immediately after the start flag and built up a lead of almost seven minutes.
However, their progress slowed on the category-two climb of San Mauro Cilento, after 153km and the gap began to tumble as a peloton led by Team Sky powered its way up the ascent. The breakaway began to splinter when De Backer was dropped on the climb and then Taborre darted off the front in an attempt to go solo on the descent.
The Italian stretched out a lead of more than a minute on his fellow escapees, but then the race erupted in the main bunch and he was swiftly swallowed up as the GC contenders began their attacks.
A much tougher finale than anyone expected, the big names came to the fore but Wiggins looked comfortable after measuring his efforts on the descent. The tough switchbacks caught out a number of riders – Robert Gesink (Blanco) able to battle back from an incident which saw Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) go down, the 2011 winner losing one minute at the side of the road.
After just three days, the overall contenders have already begun to clash and are already in the top ten overall. Paolini leads Wiggins by 17 seconds, with Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky) third at the same time. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is fifth at 31 seconds with Hesjedal seventh at 34 seconds.
Tuesday's fourth stage will be one of the longest of this year's Giro d'Italia. It is 246km long and includes a gradual 12km climb up to the finish. It certainly has the potential to spark more even more attacks.
1 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
3 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp
4 Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia
5 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
6 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha
7 Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge
8 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
9 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team
10 Robert Gesink (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team