Slagter closer to Thomas in Down Under

Dutch rider Tom-Jelte Slagter rode off the front of the peloton to win stage three of the Tour Down Under yesterday and move within 5sec of race leader Geraint Thomas.

It was Slagter's first professional win in his debut at the World Tour season opener.

Australian Matthew Goss was second in the stage, with world champion Phillippe Gilbert rebounding from a crash on the notorious "Corkscrew" climb on Wednesday for third place.

Thomas paid credit to his Team Sky team-mates for keeping him in the ochre leader's jersey.

"It was pretty tough out there. A lot of guys started attacking us three laps out and the boys had to ride really hard. They did an incredible job today setting a fast tempo all day and I can't thank them enough," he said.

"It was a tough day, but that's mission accomplished I guess.

"For sure it would have been better if Slagter didn't get the time bonus but this has also been a race of seconds anyway, so I think it will come down to a big duel on Willunga on Saturday."

The stage began with calls for an Australian fightback with local riders having their worst home tour in recent memory, an issue not helped with defending champion Simon Gerrans struggling with illness.

Australian compatriots and namesakes Simon and William Clarke forged a two-man breakaway early in the stage which saw Simon, a stage winner and king of the mountain at last year's Vuelta a Espana, become the leader on the road as the pair edged out to over three minutes from the peloton.

When they were caught another breakaway formed which was deemed too strong to be let away and with 400m to go in the 139km stage the race came back together.

Garmin Sharp's Jack Bauer began the day as the highest-placed New Zealander, in ninth position overall, while Radioshack Leopard Trek rider George Bennett was 11th overall and fourth in the young rider category.

Bennett's team-mate Jesse Sergent and Lotto Belisol veteran Greg Henderson are the other New Zealand riders in the race.

Today's fourth stage takes the race 126.5km from Modbury to Tanunda and is set up for the sprinters, while the queen stage on Saturday, a tough 151.5km stage from McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill, will give the advantage back to the climbers.

The Southland Times