An early attack paid-off big time for Ben O’Connor, who won Volta a Catalunya stage 3, the first of the two mountain stages in the race. The Australian launched with 8.5 km to go and teams in the peloton were not fully chasing O’Connor, allowing him to take over a 20-second lead in the initial part of his attack. While O’Connor was pacing himself, no particular team in the peloton took the initiative to chase, which led to chaos, with almost every rider possible trying unsuccessfully to attack. It was perfect situation for the Australian who took another World-Tour stage win.
It was the first test for the climbers. The stage ended with the Masella climb (8.3 km, 6.4%), after which there was a 3 kilometer downhill and flat section, finishing with a small rise on La Molina (1.5 km, 6.1%). It meant that early attacks should be incoming from the top climbers.
Simon Yates in the previous stage lost 33 seconds due to a crash. It was expected he would try to get some time back on competitors as he was possibly the best climber in the race after a strong Paris-Nice performance. Yates can be the best climber in the world on his day, but he is inconsistent and stage 3 was a massive disappointment for the Bike-Exchange Jayco rider as he dropped with 7 km to go from the big peloton. Many riders are having health issues and are racing sick in the peloton unknowingly, which might explain some of the below par performances. Some big names like Tom Dumoulin, Michael Matthews, Yates teammate, Thomas de Gendt and Fausto Masnada did not finish the stage.
It was a perfect stage for Michael Woods and Israel Premier-Tech were active at the start of the final climb, with Simon Clarke setting the pace, but it was not for too long as they did not bring the mountain squad.
Henri Vandenabeele, a 21-year-old Belgian from DSM, attacked early. No team cared about him and he built a nice lead. He caught the last survivor of the breakaway, Mikel Bizkarra, and distanced him easily. A few kilometres later O’Connor attacked and again, no team sent any domestiques forward quickly to chase him. Even Movistar, who had Carlos Verona and Ivan Sosa, working for Alejandro Valverde, who would be the favourite to win the stage from a bunch sprint, did not pace the front of the group.
INEOS tried their mountain train, but it did not last for long as only Castroviejo pulled and it is unclear who is the leader out of Rodriguez or Carapaz. Many attacks filled the void after no one was pacing in the peloton. It was difficult to watch the UAE-Emirates tactics as they had four climbers in the group, Juan Ayuso, Joao Almeida, Marc Soler and George Bennett and none of their riders paced the front of the group to O’Connor. Soler later attacked on the descent before the finish, stalling the chase further. If even two of them would have committed to chase O’Connor, the Australian probably would have been caught and Almeida or Ayuso could have won the stage, but t is impossible to win a stage if no one is chasing.
O’Connor’s plan worked to perfection and the stalled chase allowed him to take a big victory and the GC lead in Volta a Catalunya.
Ayuso finished 2nd, six seconds back, and lost a possible stage win as no one from the UAE were ready to sacrifice their own chances. Valverde was not feeling well and finished 18th, which would explain why Movistar did not put Sosa and Verona at the front. Woods crossed the line 39 seconds after the winner, taking 40th place. An unexpectedly bad performance from the Canadian.
Stage 4 will be the last big mountain day of the race. It will be hard for O’Connor to defend the leader’s jersey as his team, AG2R Citroën, did not bring a strong mountain support squad. The finish is 2050 metres above sea level. Nairo Quintana after finishing 3rd today, should try to test his competitors tomorrow and take the big leap forward to the GC win in Volta a Catalunya.
It was not a spectacular performance from O’Connor on La Molina. Before the descent in the finale he produced 6,09 w/kg for 20:44, which is not anything exceptional. The stage before the final climb was not too difficult. 12,62 kj/kg/h which is a medium difficulty.
The riders in the peloton did only 5,71 w/kg for 21:09, which explains why so many climbers were able to hold in the big group for so long. O’Connor did not even come close to Miguel Angel Lopez’s nuclear 2019 performance on La Molina, where he did 6,53 w/kg for 19:38.