Marc Soler emerged victorious in treacherously wet conditions on stage three of the Tour de Romandie, after race leader Rohan Dennis crashed in the final.
Soler (Movistar) launched a decisive attack on the final climb less than 10km from the finish and descended to victory as rain battered the peloton in Switzerland.
Dennis (Ineos Grenadiers) was involved in an off-camera crash in the final kilometres of the stage, losing contact with the peloton and conceding the race lead to Soler.
Soler now leads the overall ahead of Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte in second and third respectively.
How it happened
Stage three of the Tour de Romandie 2021 looked to be the first potential shake-up on the general classification after the previous two sprint stages.
The 168km course took riders on a tough tour around Estavayer in the western region of Switzerland, not far from Bern.
Riders set off from Estavayer and faced a lumpy opening section, featuring one categorised climb, before returning to the start line to begin the first of two 45km local laps.
The laps feature two categorised climbs, both third category, as the peloton took on the 1.8km-long Châbles ascent followed immediately by the 2.5km-long, 7.7 average gradient of Les Granges. Following the crest of the climb, riders then took on a 9km descent to the finish.
Early in the stage, attacks came rapid fire as riders attempted to set up the day’s breakaway, with seven riders making their move stick and pulling out a gap on the peloton after 40km.
That group featured the likes of Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo), Kobe Goossens (Lotto-Soudal) and Britain’s Charlie Quarterman, with the group extending its advantage out to almost four minutes with 100km left to race.
It was a treacherous day on the roads of Switzerland, as the rain fell hard all day and made the roads slick, particularly on the technical descents from the two climbs on the finishing circuit.
Ineos Grenadiers controlled the pace for much of the day back in the peloton, while keeping their GC leaders safe.
Into the final 50km and the breakaway began to collapse in the tough conditions, with Quarterman amongst those dropped, leaving just four riders out front into the key sections of the race.
With 16km left to race, Küng and Goossens launched their attack on the Châbles climb and pulled clear of the rest of the break, but their move was short-lived as Küng suffered a horrific crash on the descent, losing traction in the wet on a turn and going down at high speed.
Fortunately Küng didn’t suffer any serious injuries and jumped back on his bike, but he was soon swept up by the peloton, with Goossens eventually being caught 9km from the line as the breakaway was done for the day.
TV pictures then picked up images of race leader Rohan Dennis, who went down off-camera but was able to get back on his bike, then forced to try and catch the peloton to hold onto his race lead.
Near the summit of the final climb the attacks came from the peloton, with Marc Soler launching clear and Ion Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech) also firing an attack and attempting to chase.
With just the descent from Les Granges left to navigate, Soler led with a 21-second advantage over Izagirre, with the peloton 33 seconds behind the lone leader.
Despite the chasing effort from Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte, trying to minimise their losses in the overall, Soler rode to a convincing solo victory with a 22-second advantage over his nearest rivals.
Thomas and Porte finished in the second group on the road, holding onto their overall podiums, while Dennis finished 1-21 down on the winner and lost the leader’s jersey to Soler.
Soler now leads by 14 seconds over Thomas and Porte heading into stage four, the first summit finish of the race.
Tour de Romandie 2021, stage three: Estavayer to Estavayer (168.7km)
1. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, in 2-58-35
2. Magnus Cort (Den) EF Education-Nippo, at 22s
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
4. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious
5. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech
6. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
7. Ilan Van Wilder (Bel) Team DSM
8. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma
9. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech
10. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates, all at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, in 12-38-40
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 14s
3. Richie Porte (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers
4. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, all at same time
5. Marc Hirschi (Sui) UAE Team Emirates, at 16s
6. Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 20s
7. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 21s
8. Ilan Van Wilder (Bel) Team DSM
9. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma, all at same time
10. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 24s