The first real battle between the GC contenders of the Tour Down Under was held this Friday. In the usual finish in Campbelltown, featuring a climb approaching the line, Rudy Molard and Michael Storer met the expectations. The Frenchman even crossed the summit a few seconds from the “victorious” trio, before being joined by some fifteen men, including his Australian teammate. Pello Bilbao took victory while Rudy Molard, 18th on the stage at twenty-eight seconds, also sits 18th place overall, very close to the top-10. Saturday, stage 4 should lead to a sprint in Willunga.

The punchers-climbers were looking forward to this day, knowing it to be decisive for the final general classification. Towards Campbelltown, there were certainly only one hundred and seventeen kilometres to cover and a reasonable elevation gain, but the last ten kilometres included the climb of Corkscrew (2.4 to 9%), making it an ideal place to attack. However, the race proved quite calm until the riders approached this crucial area. “The peloton was obviously a little tired after yesterday’s nervousness, and despite a hard start with a ten-kilometre climb, only two guys went away: Mikkel Honoré and Fabio Felline”, said Jussi Veikkanen in introduction. The duo was able to get a four-minute lead at best, but the bunch gradually paced up in the second half of the race and caught them twenty-five kilometres from the finish. Then, a real fight for position took place before the ascent of Corkscrew. “It’s been the same approach for years,” said Jussi. “I did it myself as a rider, that’s saying something (smiles). Everyone knew it, and since it was not far from the hotel, everyone had done a recon. There was no element of surprise, and it therefore brought a lot of tension. The guys managed the approach well, and Rudy was in a good position at the bottom.”

“Rudy and Michael did well”, Jussi Veikkanen

For the final, Groupama-FDJ had also kept their options open. “Laurence did most of the positioning work,” explained Jussi. “On the other hand, we also didn’t want to sacrifice Miles, who was tenth overall. We wanted to see how he would handle it. The idea was to take advantage of the right openings to move back up, there was no need to put the whole team at work. Then we knew that Rudy, in particular, had the physical abilities and the desire to shine”. On the first part of the climb, Michael Storer was the first to show himself, slipping into the top positions as the peloton stretched and exploded. However, when Jay Vine, Simon Yates and Pello Bilbao took a gap approaching the summit, it was Rudy Molard who found himself in chase within a trio. “Rudy and Michael did well”, said Jussi. “Rudy reached the top not so far from the top three, who were in another league today.” The leading men were not caught, but Rudy was, by a group of around 15 riders including Michael Storer. “We knew the finish”, added Jussi. “So, we knew that it often comes back together in the last 3-4 kilometres, and that’s what happened again. We wanted to take this small advantage at the top over the competition, but it wasn’t enough. It’s a shame, but there are only a few seconds between the fifth and the twentieth overall”.

Rudy Molard (18th) and Michael Storer (21st) finished 28 seconds behind the winner Pello Bilbao. Overall, the Frenchman is now the best rider of the team in eighteenth place, 1’04 behind the new leader Jay Vine. Paul Penhoët, meanwhile, fought well today as well to finish in 32nd position, within a second chasing group. “Today, he was told to follow his feelings and keep some energy for tomorrow,” added Jussi. “He felt good, so we weren’t going to hold him back. On the contrary, it gives him confidence regarding the WorldTour level and it gives him benchmarks for the future. He did very well to test himself on a climb like this. Matthews is not far ahead, Groves is with him, it’s a pretty good sign and it confirms his abilities”. The young man will be expected again tomorrow, with a final in Willunga that will favour the fast men, for once. “This time, the finish is at the bottom”, concluded Jussi. “We did a recon of the stage and the final on a slight uphill road can benefit Paul. We have been thinking about this stage for several days. So of course, we are very motivated”.

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