March 13, 2015

AREZZO, Italy (AP) Greg Van Avermaet sprinted to victory on the third stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico on Friday and moved into the overall lead.

The Belgian won in 4 hours, 58 minutes, 17 seconds over the 203-kilometer (126.1-mile) route from Cascina to Arezzo after attacking at the top of the climb with 200 meters to go.

Peter Sagan, who won the same stage last year, was second. Sagan was poorly positioned on the final corner and although he made up ground up the finishing straight, closing to within half a wheel, Van Avermaet held on. Zdenek Stybar was third.

''I looked at stages of Tirreno-Adriatico and was confident for the third and fourth ones,'' Van Avermaet said. ''This finish really suits me, even if there were some good guys to beat.

''It's always good when you get the first win of the season. I've been close to a win a few times this year but I'm happy to finish it off.''

The BMC rider leads the overall standings two seconds ahead of Sagan. Adriano Malori - who had worn the leader's blue jersey since winning the opening stage - slipped to third, eight seconds behind.

This year's race was set to be the first time that four riders with 10 Grand Tour wins between them have competed together in a World Tour stage race, but 2013 Tour de France champion Chris Froome withdrew on Monday because of a chest infection.

However, defending Tirreno champion Alberto Contador, two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali and last year's runner-up Nairo Quintana are in the race.

Saturday's stage four is a medium-mountain one and the longest of the race at 218K (135.4 miles). The route from Indicatore includes three categorized climbs in the final 80K (49.7 miles), before a steep descent to the finish in Castelraimondo.

The 50th edition of the race across central Italy ends March 17 with an individual time trial.

There were three crashes in Thursday's stage and Matteo Pelucchi was forced to withdraw before the start of Friday's leg.

There was an early break of five riders, who escaped in the opening kilometer and had a lead of 14 minutes after 40K (24.9 miles) with the peloton happy to let them go.

They were caught with 17.5K (11 miles) remaining by the peloton, which was driven by Malori's Movistar team and the Tinkoff-Saxo team of Sagan as the cyclists prepared for the sprint finale.

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