ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — Triple world champion Peter Sagan won the third stage of the Tour Down Under cycle race for the second straight year Thursday but New Zealander Patrick Bevin finished fifth to retain the overall lead by a single second at the tour's midpoint.
Sagan reproduced his ride in the same stage last season to snatch a split-second victory over Spain's Luis Leon Sanchez. Last year's race-winner, Daryl Impey of South Africa, was third with Danny Van Poppel of the Netherlands fourth.
The 146.2 kilometer (91 mile) stage was grueling, finishing with seven laps of an undulating 14 kilometer circuit through the Adelaide Hills centered on the finish line in the small town of Uraidla.
Organizers met with rider and team representatives before the stage began to discuss whether it should be shortened because of heat wave conditions in South Australia. While riders were eager for the stage to be reduced, a majority of teams voted for it to remain unchanged.
The undulating nature of the stage, which featured 3.3 kilometers of climbs and similarly steep descents, made the stage highly technical and resulted in a series of breakaways.
Sagan knew best how to position himself for the finish which featured two tight corners before the line. He dashed away and grabbed the stage win by barely a wheel width from Sanchez while Impey rode a superb stage to keep himself in tour contention, in fifth place on general classification.
"My team...they kept me in the front and took care of me with a bottle of water and then in the end it was just a very great finish," Sagan said. "When we passed the last climb I said it's going to be the same like last year, let's concentrate.
"Then it just happened, like a copy paper result."
Sagan said that he expected to be less aggressive on the 129.2 kilometer fourth stage on Friday, which features a corkscrew climb.
"For sure not," he said. "My bet is on Sanchez."
Thursday's stage again featured an early breakaway, this time by six riders including the first stage winner Elia Viviani.
Italy's Viviani claimed time bonuses on the first two intermediate sprints and his leading group stayed away from the peloton until there were only 31.5 kilometers remaining.
At that point another group, featuring some of the original leaders, tried again to put a break on the bunch but with 20 kilometers remaining there was a single leader.
The final break occurred three kilometers from the finish but was quickly reclaimed and Sagan was perfectly placed at the final corner to hit the line first.