Samuel Sánchez gave an early indicator of form in the Giro d'Italia by placing fifth on an unexpectedly tough third stage of the race on Monday.
The hills on the 222-kilometre long drag from Sorrento to Marina di Ascena turned out to be a bigger test for the general classification contenders than many had anticipated pre-stage, as several candidates for the overall win in Brescia, defending champion Ryder Hesjedal in particular, launched threatening moves off the front on the descent off of the final cat.3 climb of Sella de Catona.
The likes of the Garmin-Sharp leader, Astana's young climber Fabio Aru and Katusha's Luca Paolini were all in the midst of the attacks, and eventually it was the latter, riding his maiden Giro at 36, who managed to slip away in the last few kilometres to win solo and take the pink jersey with it.
A select group counting 16 riders came in 16 seconds down, with Cadel Evans leading the group across the line ahead of Hesjedal and Mauro Santambrogio.
Samuel Sánchez, always attentive and well shepherded on the last climb by Egoi Martínez and Jorge Azanza, came in fifth to rise to 20th overall.
After three days of racing, the Euskaltel leader is 1:18 down on new leader Paolini. He's still 1:01 and 47 seconds down on main favourites Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali respectively.
Results (full results here):
- (1, Luca Paolini (Katusha), 5:43:50)
- 5, Samuel Sánchez, 0:16
- 26, Jorge Azanza, 0:50
- 59, Egoi Martínez, 1:52
- 62, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
- 89, Ricardo Mestre, 8:27
- 129, Robert Vrecer, s.t.
- 157, Ioannis Tamouridis, 14:17
- 196, Pablo Urtasun, 19:31
- 198, Miguel Mínguez, s.t.
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi