Tour de France 2020: Aussie Caleb Ewan claims third stage, as mountain leader crashes out

King of the Mountain leader Anthony Perez has crashed out, as pocket-sized Aussie sprinter Caleb Ewan finessed his way to victory in the third stage of the Tour de France. 

Frenchman Perez was locked in a head-to-head battle with countryman Benoit Cosnefroy, who wore the polka-dot jersey to the start-line, but conceded his category lead on the first two climbs of the day.

When the pair returned to the chasing peloton to conserve energy, Perez punctured, fell behind and eventually crashed trying to make up lost ground on a descent.

He has withdrawn from the tour with a broken collarbone, gifting the jersey back to Cosnefroy.

Meanwhile, Ewan hit 69 kph, as he slalomed through his rivals down the finishing straight, riding dangerously close to the barrier, before whizzing around Irishman Sam Bennett for a career fourth stage win.

"It's always nice for the whole team," says Ewan. "We have a win and we can relax a bit, and it's when there's a more relaxed atmosphere that you perform the best."

Ewan's Lotto Soudal team came close to not even starting the Tour, after a mechanic and a caretaker tested positive for coronavirus, and four staff members were sent home.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) had just relaxed the rules on potential exclusions from the event, ruling that two riders or more testing positive within seven days would lead to the whole outfit being sent packing.

Early on Saturday, French health authorities toughened the stance, reverting the rule to its original form that included staffers.

The rule was not retroactive and the Belgian team were allowed to start in Nice, but their misfortunes did not end there.

Former Paris-Roubaix champion John Degenkolb was eliminated after finishing the rain-hit, crash-marred opening stage outside the time limit, while former world champion Philippe Gilbert abandoned with a broken kneecap.

Anthony Perez crashes out of Tour de France
Anthony Perez crashes out of Tour de France. Photo credit: Getty

That day, Ewan was tipped to win the stage and take the first yellow jersey, but nothing went to plan for the Australian.

"It was a pretty terrible start for the team," he said. "We came here to win stages and get the yellow jersey in the first stage and we lost two riders. 

"The morale was down after losing two good riders, Phil and John having a lot of experience."

France's Julian Alaphilippe retained the overall leader's yellow jersey after the third stage, with Kiwis Jack Bauer (14th), Sam Bewley (69th) and George Bennett (74th), all recording the same time as the winner.

Bennett spent the day supporting Jumbo-Visma team leaders, Primož Roglič and Tom Dumoulin, who maintained their positions among the overall leaders, 17 seconds behind Alaphilippe.

Wednesday's fourth stage is a 160.5km effort from Sisteron to Orcieres-Merlette for the first summit finish of the race, with Briton Adam Yates, trailling Alaphilippe by four seconds overall, eyeing the yellow jersey.