Another great day for the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl sprint train in Volta ao Algarve Stage 3. The Belgian team delivered Fabio Jakobsen to the finish in a good position, with the Dutchman unstoppable on the slight uphill rise despite the dangerous Tim Merlier in his wheel, taking his fourth victory of the year.
Stage 3 was over 200 kilometres long and made for sprinters with a few rolling climbs but nothing serious near to the finish. It was the last chance for sprinters to get a win in Algarve, with the time trial tomorrow and puncher finish on Sunday evening.
It was a calm and classic sprint day, with Alpecin-Fenix, Quick-Step and Cofidis all offering up domestiques to control the breakaway for their sprinters Merlier, Jakobsen and Coquard. Quick-Step easily have the most powerful lead-out train here, with Merlier’s top last man Jonas Rickaert riding in UAE Tour this weekend for Jasper Philipsen.
Quick-Step brought their train forward as usual in the last 3 kilometres after the breakaway had been caught. Fabio Jakobsen’s last lead-out man in Algarve is Bert Van Lerberghe who, before opening up his sprint, looked back to see if his teammate was on his wheel, perhaps remembering the stage Senechal won in the Vuelta last year where Jakobsen shouted to Senechal that “if you don’t look back you are no leadout.”
Jakobsen allowed Cofidis sprinter Bryan Coquard to sneak in behind Van Lerberghe. In this way Dutchman had another lead-out man, perhaps conscious of the uphill rise to come and not wanting to go too early.
When Jakobsen opened his sprint with ~200 meters to go, his acceleration on the false flat finish was incredible. He quickly flew past Coquard whilst Alpecin-Fenix leader Tim Merlier was boxed-in on the right side of the road. Jakobsen was so strong that a better position probably would not have allowed Merlier to win this stage anyway.
Jakobsen took the stage, with Merlier sitting in his draft for the entire last 100 metres, but unable to do anything about it.
Arkea-Samsic sprint duo Hugo Hofstetter and Clement Russo finished 5th and 6th, but both received 0 UCI points because this is not a one-day race. Only the top three positions get points but as they say, practice makes perfect.
Tomorrow will be the most important day for GC riders. The 32.2 kilometre time-trial is unusually long for a one week-stage race. Remco Evenepoel will be the favourite but Brandon McNulty, Ethan Hayter, Stefan Küng, Tobias Foss, Kasper Asgreen should be the ones to challenge Evenepoel tomorrow for both the stage and GC (in the case of McNulty). It will be interesting to see how many minutes the leader David Gaudu will lose to the time-trial specialists, as he is set to ride for GC in the upcoming Tour de France, where time trial proficiency is vital.