Cycling: Joaquim Rodriguez stays clear as Luka Mezgec wins third sprint

Froome remains 17 seconds behind Spanish leader in Tour of Catalonia

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The Independent Online

Slovenia’s Luka Mezgec earned his third stage win of this year’s Tour of Catalonia, edging out the pack in the final sprint in Valls yesterday.

Joaquim Rodriguez maintained the overall lead, with the 218km (135 miles) ride from Llanars Vall de Camprodon producing no changes at the top of the general classification.

Mezgec, riding for Giant-Shimano, finished the stage in five hours, 16 minutes at the front of a large pack. He also won the two opening stages of the seven-day race with sprint finishes.

Rodriguez kept his four-second lead over Alberto Contador. Tejay van Garderen remained seven seconds behind. Nairo Quintana trailed by 10 seconds.

British Tour de France winner Chris Froome of Team Sky was seventh on the stage and remained sixth overall, 17 seconds off the pacesetter.

“I hope I can reach the final day with the same advantage,” said Rodriguez, who won the Tour of Spain in 2010. “We will have to be very attentive and stay focused.”

Contador played down his chances of overtaking Rodriguez. “The remaining course leaves very little margin,” the Spaniard said. “For me, the important thing is to recover physically from these tiring days.”

Today’s sixth stage will take riders over 172km (107 miles) from El Vendrell to Vilanova i la Geltru. The race finishes in Barcelona tomorrow.

Peter Sagan won his first big classic of the season, dominating a four-way sprint to win the E3 Harelbeke in Belgium.

In a chaotic race marred by several crashes, Cannondale’s Sagan broke away 25km from the finish and only Omega Pharma Quick-Step team-mates Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh and Sky’s Geraint Thomas followed him. All Sagan’s challengers tried to break away, knowing the Slovak was by far the fastest in the sprint, but he clawed them back each time and easily won from Terpstra and Thomas.

Team Sky’s Thomas said afterwards: “I think I rode it as best I could. I just felt I didn’t have the punch that Sagan and Terpstra had, so I thought I’d just gamble it all in the finish. You never know if you don’t see what happens. Unfortunately Terpstra got round me on the line but I gave it everything. That’s all I had and I’m pretty happy with that.”

Sagan will be the hot favourite tomorrow to triumph in the World Tour classic Gent-Wevelgem, which he won last year. Harelbeke pre-race favourite Fabian Cancellara was held back in a mass crash 30km from the finish.