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Team Soudal-Quick Step's Belgian rider Tim Merlier celebrates on the podium after winning the 3rd stage of the 107th Giro d'Italia cycling race, 166 km between Novara and Fossano, on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

Fossano: Tim Merlier won the third stage of the Giro d’Italia on Monday, pipping Jonathan Milan to the line in a bunch sprint after race leader Tadej Pogacar made a bold attempt to steal victory.

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UAE rider Pogacar tried to take his second stage in as many days in the final two kilometres of the 166km run from Novara to Fossano with a surprising burst.

But Merlier claimed his second stage win in the Giro after one in 2021, the same year he took his sole Tour de France stage.

“It was the hardest victory so far. It was a really hard final. I got to 300 metres and I said ‘you need to go’,” said Soudal-Quick-Step’s Merlier.

“I saw Milan was starting his sprint on the left side and I knew I was going to be first or second and I’m happy I won this one.”

Red-hot favourite

Pogacar is red-hot favourite to win the Giro at his first attempt and was once again in the thick of the action after storming to victory in Sunday’s second stage and only just missing out on Saturday’s opener.

The two-time Tour de France champion made his move after following an attack by EF Education-EasyPost’s Mikkel Honore. For a moment it looked like Pogacar and his pink jersey rival Geraint Thomas would battle it out for the win.

But the pair were caught by the peloton near the line before Merlier claimed the tightest of victories over Milan and Intermarche-Wanty rider Biniam Girmay.

“We tried to keep on going but I never believed we could make it to the finish,” said Pogacar.

“In the end, I tried but 400 metres to the finish is still a long way to go, way too long.”

'Stay out of trouble'

Briton Thomas, a former Tour de France winner, is 46 seconds off the pace in the general classification. The Ineos rider is the only one looking capable of challenging Pogacar for overall victory.

“We just wanted to stay out of trouble,” said an exhausted Thomas.

“Then I saw Honore and Pog go and then I was like ‘might as well just go’ but jeepers man that was solid, he was kicking my head in. I was just trying to hold his wheel.

“I looked back and I was surprised that there was such a big gap but I knew they were going to come. It was a bit different.

“Good start, I’m feeling all right, hopefully I can continue to build.”

On Tuesday the peloton take on a 190km slog from Acqui Terme to Andora on the Italian Riviera.

The sprinters should have another chance to shine in a stage which takes on the Capo Mele climb made famous by the Monument race Milan-San Remo.