The classics riders are dominating the week-long Tirreno-Adriatico race, with Mathieu van der Poel the latest to shine.
The Dutchman claimed the third stage on Friday with an authoritative sprint to follow up on wins from Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe on the opening two days.
Van der Poel, who won the Strade Bianche race on Saturday, edged his big rival van Aert and Davide Ballerini at the end of the undulating 219-kilometre route from Monticiano to Gualdo Tadino.
Van der Poel, who rides for the Alpecin-Fenix team, required nearly five and a half hours to complete the race’s longest stage but still had to much power and pace at the end.
“It was a really hard sprint after a long stage,” van der Poel said. “It hurts.”
In the overall standings, van Aert is now four seconds ahead of van der Poel, with world road champion Alaphilippe third, 10 seconds behind.
Tadej Pogacar, the Tour de France titleholder, is looming in fifth place overall, 20 seconds behind.
Team BikeExchange’s impressive 22-year-old Australian Robert Stannard had another good day among esteemed company.
The man from Sydney battled into the final sprint, eventually finishing 13th on the stage and moving up one place on the overall classification to sixth, just 20 seconds off the lead.
Saturday’s stage four is a 148-kilometre leg from Terni to Prati Di Tivo that finishes with a major climb considered the race’s toughest test.
“Normally, it would be very difficult for me to retain the leader’s jersey tomorrow,” van Aert said.
“This situation is completely new for me, but I’m ready to fight. My team is very strong and we saved some energy today.
“I’ll be hanging on as long as possible. I’ll try to not lose too much time when I’ll get dropped by the climbers and we’ll figure out tomorrow evening if I can still compete for the overall victory.”
The sea-to-sea race ends on Tuesday with an individual time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto.