MALAGA, Spain (AP) — After two convulsive days that saw former Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali thrown out and a time trial deemed dangerous, Peter Sagan helped establish a sense of normality to the Spanish Vuelta after winning its third stage on Monday.
The Slovak rider for Tinkoff-Saxo won a sprint to the line of the 158.4-kilometer (98.4-mile) ride from Mijas to Malaga featuring a category-one summit midway through before a long, flat finish.
There were no changes at the top of the general classification. Colombian Esteban Chaves kept the red leader’s jersey, while favorite Chris Froome remained in eighth place at 40 seconds back. Title hopeful Nairo Quintana protected his four-second gap over Froome at 36 seconds off Chaves’ lead.
“We are very happy to have the red jersey one day more,” Chaves said.
The stage started with a breakaway of eight riders, but Sagan’s team set a hard pace for the peloton to swallow up the last escapee with 14 kilometers (8.6 miles) left and position him for the win, where he edged Nacer Bouhanni by a wheel. Sagan clocked the winning time of 4 hours, 6 minutes, 46 seconds.
“I thank all the team because today we really deserved this win,” said Sagan, who finished runner-up on five stages at last month’s Tour and left without a single stage win.
His Tinkoff-Saxo team is without top rider Alberto Contador. The Spaniard opted to not defend his 2014 Vuelta title after winning the Giro d’Italia and riding the Tour this year.
Tuesday’s fourth stage is another one for sprinters, a flat 209.6-kilometer (130.2-mile) ride from Estepona to Vejer de la Frontera where the wind and southern sun could possibly play a part in the outcome.
On Sunday, Nibali was expelled from the three-week Grand Tour after race organizers said the 2014 Tour winner had held onto a Astana team support car for several meters after he had been slowed down by a crash that had taken down several riders about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the end of the second stage.
That disgraceful exit of one of the main contenders expected to challenge Froome came after the opening stage’s team time trial was ruled unsafe because of patches of sandy dirt on the course, leading to the decision by organizers to not count it toward individual times.
Monday’s route, which took the riders along the southern coast before arriving to Malaga, passed without major incident.
Bouhanni rebounded from a minor crash with Daniele Bennati to almost get the win.
Paolo Tiralongo withdrew from the race due to injuries received in Sunday’s accident, while Fabian Cancellara withdrew because of a stomach illness.