The dogfight between two Australian teams in the New Zealand Cycle Classic continued as stage three was loaded with attacks.
Australian Brenton Jones of the Avanti Cycling Team won the 160km stage yesterday by less than a few centimetres as he and stage two winner Wouter Wippet went neck and neck to the line for a time of 3 hours 51 minutes 17 seconds.
Budget Forklifts' Michael Vink stayed in the leader's yellow jersey, but it wasn't easy as the 160km stage from Palmerston North to Pohangina, Apiti, Kimbolton and back to Palmerston North was full of attacks.
There were a number of breakaways from the start, right up to Kimbolton, but then the drag race down Kimbolton Road saw the peloton gobble them up.
Tour leader Vink said it was one of the harder stages because they had a lot of pressure on them, but his team helped him as they were under attack from breakaways all day.
The Budget Forklifts riders were battling to keep up with the pace as they climbed up from Apiti to Kimbolton, and Avanti and Drapac tried to change the course of the race.
"It was a case of do I try and jump across to that move or do I wait and let the team to come up for us chase as a group," Vink said.
"It's pretty much always better to have your teammates around you so I just sat up and waited for the boys and we had strength in numbers."
If the peloton hadn't hauled in the breakaways then there could have been a different man in yellow yesterday as a lot of riders struggled with the hills.
"It was more so the wind I think today rather than the climbs, where they came in the race.
"Also the other riders and what they were prepared to do in terms of attack."
Jones is breathing down Vink's neck in second place and just four seconds behind, with fellow Avanti rider Aaron Donnelly two seconds behind him, having just nosed in front of the pack at 65kmh with a tail wind.
Jones was looking forward to the flat stage four today and then the dual hills of the Pahiatua track and Saddle Road tomorrow.
"I'm not a pure climber but I can climb fairly well and the legs and my form at the moment's really really good," the man from Warragul, Victoria said.
"I knew I could get over the climbs and pressure was applied at some times during the stage. I was just hanging on and I did enough to hang on and save my legs for the finish today."
He found the 50km section of rolling hills tough, but felt his team were sitting good for the rest of the tour with three riders in the top 10 overall, including climber Auckland's Taylor Gunman who he said would be a good target to set up for the win on Sunday.
There was no change in the other classifications either as GPM's Chris Jory remains King of the Mountains, Hayden McCormick (New Zealand) still leads the under-23 category and Michael Schweizer (Synergy Baku Cycling Project) is still the sprint ace.
Avanti lead the overall team standings, with the New Zealand national team eight seconds behind.
Today's stage was a 136km starting in Palmerston North and is a five-lap loop from Colyton to Hiwinui and back to Palmerston North.
Tomorrow is 165km from Palmerston North to Pahiatua, does a lap at Alfredton and then goes through Woodville to finish on top of the Saddle Rd.
Stage three results: 1. Brenton Jones (AUS) (AVA) 3h51m17s; 2. Wouter Wippert (NED) (DCP) ST; 3. Malcolm Rudolph (AUS) (DCP) ST; 4. Graham Briggs (GBR) (RCJ) ST; 5. Tom Scully (NZL) ST; 6. James Williamson (SIG) ST; 7. Michael Fitzgerald (AUS) (SGR) ST; 8. Hayden McCormick (NZL) ST; 9. Paul Odlin (ARM) ST; 10. Eric Sheppard (AUS) (TSI) ST.
Overall standings: 1. Michael Vink (BFL) 7h06m04s; 2. Brenton Jones (AUS) (AVA) at 04s; 3. Aaron Donnelly (AUS) (AVA) at 06s; 4. Hayden McCormick (NZL) at 09s; 5. Tom Scully (NZL) at 10s; 6. Samuel Horgan (BFL) at 10s; 7. Fraser Gough (NZL) at 12s; 8. Taylor Gunman (AVA) at 13s; 9. Adam Phelan (AUS) (DCP) at 14s; 10. Thomas Rabou (NED) (TSI) at 14s.
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