Photo credit: Graham Watson

“This is a huge win,” said Gerrans. “It’s a huge moment for the team. We have been so close on so many occasions. Hopefully it’s the first of many more to come.”

“This is obviously our biggest win,” added Sport Director Matt White. “We’ve won more than 50 races since the team’s inception last year. We had already won at the Giro, the Vuelta, the Classics and all sorts of races between, but this is the one box we hadn’t ticked off yet.”

The Australian outfit made their mark on the undulating stage from start to finish. Simon Clarke spent the day in a five rider breakaway that formed shortly after the flag waved, indicating the official start of stage three. Joined up the road by Sébastien Minard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alexis Vuillermoz (Sojasun), Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), Clarke chased mountain points as he worked with his breakaway companions to establish an advantage over the cagey peloton.

“My job today was basically exactly what I did,” explained Clarke. “I was brought to the Tour de France team to go into breakaways, and I made sure that happened. It took pressure off the team behind so they could relax a little bit before the finish.”

Clarke earned top points on three of the four categorised climbs. In an effort to trade the blue polka dot jersey he earned as KOM leader at the Vuelta a España last year for the red polka dot jersey worn by the Tour de France KOM leader, Clarke distanced his breakmates on the final climb of the Col de Marsolino. Swept up by riders attacking out of the bunch ahead of the summit, he missed out on the polka dot jersey but was awarded most combative for his efforts.

“I went for the KOM points because I could,” said Clarke. “The opportunity was there so I took it. It would have been a bonus to get the jersey, but it wasn’t a primary objective. I attacked in the final because I wanted to get over the last climb with the bunch. I knew the gap to the break wasn’t big enough to stay away, and I didn’t want to get caught much before the summit. If I had, I might not have been with the group in the closing kilometres to lend a hand.”

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) soloed over the Col de Marsolino summit trailed by Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The duo were joined by Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) and Lars Petter Nordhaug (Belkin) on the twisty descent. Clarke joined Cameron Meyer and Michael Albasini at the head of affairs, and the three combined forces to catch the four up the road 3km from the finish.

“Cam Meyer went straight to the front to shut down the four riders who had slipped off the front,” said Gerrans. “Albasini and Clarke were there, too. Those three committed everything to bring that break back for me, and we kept Daryl for the final lead-out. The rest of the team had done their jobs early – looking after us over the early hills and getting bidons. It was a total team effort. I’m really proud how everyone contributed.”

First to the front, Meyer was the first to complete his chase work. Albasini pulled off shortly after making the catch. Clarke took Impey and Gerrans to the 2km mark.

“Daryl and I have been working well together in the finals in the last few days,” said Gerrans. “Yesterday I led him out. We thought the finish suited me better today, and we made the decision to have him lead me out because of that. He’s the best in the business. He did an absolutely perfect job.”

Cannondale opened the sprint with Impey and Gerrans just behind. Impey spotted a narrow opening on the right side of the finishing straight and slipped through it with Gerrans in tow. Gerrans swung off Impey’s wheel 200m from the finish and charged towards the line. Sagan did the same on the left side of the road. A photo finish determined Gerrans the winner by millimetres.

“I had no idea if I had won,” said Gerrans. “I knew it was really close, and I wasn’t going to celebrate too early. Sagan and I were on the opposite ends of the road and we both threw our bikes. My win was confirmed a few minutes later. We’re all pretty ecstatic.”