Merlier wins Giro Stage 3 after Pogacar fires up finale and stays in the lead

FOSSANO, Italy (AP) — Belgian rider Tim Merlier won the third stage of the Giro d'Italia after race leader Tadej Pogacar almost caught the sprinters by surprise in a breathtaking finale on Monday.

Merlier claimed his second career stage win at the Italian grand tour ahead of Jonathan Milan and Biniam Girmay.

For Merlier's eighth win this season, he timed his last effort precisely, surging from the right side to pip Milan by less than half a wheel.

Pogacar, who grabbed the pink jersey on Sunday, was not expected to shine during Monday's trek between Novara and Fossano. With its mainly flat profile and just a small hill near the finish, the 166-kilometer (103-mile) stage looked ideal for the first battle between the sprinters.

The main overall contenders were expected to spend the day safely in the peloton but Pogacar had other ideas.

“It's still better to be in front than stay in the bunch,” Pogacar said three stages into his Giro debut. "Then, in the final, it was stretching the legs.”

After a breakaway group which formed after the first intermediate sprint was caught with some 43 kilometers left, Pogacar sprinted for the bonus seconds awarded in the town of Cherasco.

Ben Swift, a teammate of Geraint Thomas, was the fastest, however, and took the bonus three seconds. Pogacar was second followed by Geraint Thomas and gained two seconds. Thomas was awarded a one-second bonus.

As the peloton rode toward the finish line in a drizzle, Mikkel Honore launched a bold move with three kilometers left, setting up a breathtaking finale.

Only Pogacar and Thomas could follow and the pair looked like they could pull it off after they dropped Honore. But the long section of road that followed a hairpin bend was too much to handle and the sprinters caught them with about 300 meters to go.

“This is my hardest victory so far,” Merlier said. “It was a really hard final. It’s been very difficult to come across to Pogacar and Thomas.”

Pogacar leads second-placed Thomas by 46 seconds, with Daniel Martinez in third place, 47 seconds off the pace.

Tuesday's fourth stage is a 190-kilometer (118-mile) route from Acqui Terme to the seaside resort of Andora.

The Giro ends in Rome on May 26.


AP sports: