Mértola, Portugal - British national criterium champion Chris Lawless sprinted to a runner-up result Friday for the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team on Stage 3 of Volta ao Alentejo.
Lawless said he made what he hoped would be the winning move early in the downhill-then-flat-then-uphill run to the finish in the final kilometer. But Colombian Juan Sebastian Molano (Manzana-Postobon Team) caught him on the 20 percent gradient to narrowly take the win.
"I went with about 300 meters to go to try to catch people off guard," Lawless said. "I don't know whether the winner managed to get on my wheel straight away or whether he came from behind. I only knew he was there with 50 meters to go. The finish was a bit twisty, so I was trying to straight-line the corners. But he managed to get past me with about 50 meters to go."
Carlos Barbero (Movistar Team) finished third, two seconds back, and kept the overall lead with two stages to go. Axeon Hagens Berman's Eddie Dunbar slid from fifth to sixth overall and is 21 seconds back in the overall standings. Two other Axeon Hagens Berman riders are also in the top 15: Ecuadorian Under 23 time trial champion Jhonatan Narvaez is 11th and American Adrien Costa, who was on the attack early in the stage, is 12th. Both are 23 seconds off the lead.
Dunbar, the Under 23 Irish national time trial champion, was unseated at the top of the "best young rider" standings by Jasper De Laat (Metec-TKH Continental Cyclingteam presented by Mantel). De Laat and Dunbar are tied on overall time, with Narvaez and Costa a further two seconds back.
Since placing fourth-to-last on Stage 1, Lawless has finished fifth and second, respectively. In hindsight, he said, Wednesday's 145th-place result - 20 minutes behind the winner - did him some good.
"I was not feeling great since I got off the plane," he said. "I had been coughing a bit and that first day did not suit me anyway. I knew I was in for a hard day. I just had to get through it and my time would come later in the race. I was still hoping I could possibly finish in the front group, but when it came down to it, it just was not my day at all."
At 208 kilometers, Friday's stage from Mourão to Mértola was the longest of the five-day race. But that did not mean it was without aggression, Axeon Hagens Berman Sport Director Koos Moerenhout said.
"Again, it was a fast race with many attacks," he said. "Our guys were well-represented in every break before the six-man move of the day went away."
Not as positive, however, was a major pile-up that involved Ivo Oliveira. The Portuguese rider finished sixth on Thursday.
"It was a big crash and Ivo was down and had a lot of pain in his femur," Moerenhout said. "It really was quite incredible that he managed to get back on and eventually catch up to the leading group, especially after the peloton split into two parts. Let us hope he can recover well."
With two days to go, Axeon Hagens Berman remains tied on time in the team classification with Colombian squad Manzana Postobon. Sporting Clube de Portugal/Tavira is third, two seconds back.
(Header photo of Chris Lawless (left) finishing runner-up to Juan Sebastian Molano courtesy of Volta ao Alentejo.)