Pogacar retains lead in Giro as Merlier wins stage

Tadej Pogacar has narrowly extended his lead in the Giro d"Italia, but came within 500 metres of winning stage 3 as well.

In the event Belgian rider Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) won the 166km stage, his second career stage win at the Italian grand tour, ahead of Jonathan Milan of Lidl-Trek with Eritrea's Biniam Girmay taking third for Intermarche-Wanty.

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 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 the UAE Team Emirates rider 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, an Ineos Grenadiers teammate of Geraint Thomas, was the fastest, however, and took the bonus three seconds. Pogacar was second followed by Thomas and gained two seconds.

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 500 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 (Bora-Hansgrohe) in third place, 47 seconds off the pace.

Australian Ben O'Connor is tenth, one minute 26 seconds adrift of the leader, and Michael Storer 12th five seconds behind.

The fourth stage is a 190km route from Acqui Terme to the seaside resort of Andora.