Wout Poels overcame a late wheel change to finish safely in the peloton alongside teammate Sergio Henao on stage three at Paris-Nice.
The Dutchman was unfortunate to sustain a broken wheel on the day’s final climb, the Cote de Charbonnieres, as attacks fired up ahead with just 26 kilometres remaining.
Following a wheel change from teammate David Lopez, Poels was paced back to the head of the group by his Team Sky colleagues in a gutsy chase for around 20 kilometres. That ensured he was able to finish alongside Sergio Henao and David de la Cruz in a reduced peloton.
Henao was well positioned and was able to power his way into a group of lead contenders on the first significant climb of this year’s race. As the GC players watched one another, fresh attacks saw three riders push clear to contest the stage victory in Chatel-Guyon.
Jonathan Hivert (Direct Energie) won the three-up sprint, but it was Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) who took the runner-up spot, and crucially carved out 38 seconds on the chasing pack as he moved into yellow.
Henao and Poels now sit 43 seconds behind the Spaniard heading into Wednesday’s time trial.
Warming down after the stage, Poels described the run-in and how the team battled back to bring the lead groups together.
He told TeamSky.com: “Someone hit my back wheel and I think some spokes went out so I couldn’t ride any more. Straight away Lopez stopped and gave me his wheel. Diego (Rosa) waited for me and he closed to the first big group. Then at the end we linked up with David (de la Cruz) and he took over. We were pulling at the front and luckily we were able to close the gap. Yogi (Ian Stannard) was also really good across the whole day for me.
“I had to push quite hard but I’m definitely relieved. It’s the TT tomorrow and I’m looking forward to that.”