The sun was out for the first time after wet and miserable conditions plagued the opening two stages of the race. It shone down on the impressive victory of dual world champion Peter Sagan, who again showcased his freakish ability to shut down a late attack by Richie Porte (BMC Racing), control the front of the race, recover from pulling his foot out of the pedal and win against some of the best riders in the world.
"What is pressure?" joked Sagan in response to a question after the race. "I don't know what it is!"
"First of all I'd like to thank my team, they did an amazing job today. They were pulling all day on the front and it was not easy, with the headwind and the technical part in the end."
"It was not easy, there was a lot of stress in the peloton. Then in the end it was a pretty hard climb. BMC did a good job for Richie and after he attacked - in the last 800 metres I think - he had a little gap in the front. I go, but I catch him too early and there's still 400 metres to go.
"It was too early to go and at that moment I said 'I'm going too early'. Then I start my sprint and I push my feet out from the cleat - what is happening today - and I just won. Almost Matthews beat me at the end. I am very happy for this victory."
— CyclingCentral (@CyclingCentral) July 3, 2017
Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) was a rapidly finishing second and needed only a bit more distance to overcome Sagan on the line.
Dan Martin (QuickStep Floors) was the best of the general classification candidates in third, and ended up clawing back a small amount of time on his rivals for a podium finish in Paris. Geraint Thomas was attentive in the finish to cross the line in 8th and will retain the yellow jersey into the fourth stage after claiming it on the opening time trial.
As it happened
With a lumpy stage profile on the cards for the day, there was a concerted battle to get in the breakaway at the start of the stage. Numerous efforts came from teams that didn't have the rider to win up the final climb of the day, whilst the likes of Bora-Hansgrohe and Team Sunweb didn't want to have to chase too large a group for the entire stage.
In the end a six-man group formed with Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal), Frederik Backaert (Wanty Groupe Gobert), Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin), Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Nathan Brown (Cannondale-Drapac) forcing their way clear.
The intermediate sprint was the first point of serious interest for the day, with the riders out front hoovering up the first six positions. A viciously contested bunch sprint came from the peloton for the remainder of the precious green jersey points on offer, with Sagan putting a hefty shoulder into German rival Andre Grepel (Lotto Soudal).
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) sounded a warning to his sprint rivals that his recovery from glandular fever is complete, finishing fastest to come over the top of his rivals.
The group of six off the front were in hot competition for the mountains points out on the road, with the King of the Mountains jersey up for grabs for the strongest man on the categorised climbs of the day.
Initial skirmishes between Brown and Politt for the mountain sprints saw the pair go briefly clear of their breakaway companions and fight it out for the Category 3 Cote d'Eschdorf which would decide who would wear the polka dot jersey at the end of the day.
Brown surged clear well out from the top of the climb, leaving the heavier Politt behind as he secured the King of the Mountains jersey. The pair then sat up and waited for their erstwhile companions to continue the stage.
The attacks on the climbs pushed the gap back to the peloton out to its maximum advantage for the stage, just shy of four minutes.
Co-operation and application was in short supply for the six escapees and the gap was rapidly reduced down as the riders approached the French border.
Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) decided with 58 kilometres remaining to take a gamble and jump across the dwindling gap to the breakaway to animate the race.
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The trio had a brief rest before attacking again over the top of the early breakaway, with only Romain Hardy able to follow.
Back in the peloton, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) crashed with 40 kilometres remaining in the race, prompting a furious chase with his AG2R team back to the peloton. They made it back on quickly enough and Bardet didn't seem to be suffering an obvious injury.
The quartet off the front began to put a lot more impetus into the race and whilst the peloton was coming to the realisation that they had to up their effort, the four riders managed to extend their advantage to a minute and 45 seconds with 30 kilometres left in the race.
Calmejane took up the pace on the climbs and he dropped all of the other breakaway riders with 23 kilometres left to go and had to push on alone.
The peloton inexorably dragged the Frenchman back in as they set to put their riders in the perfect position to contest the technical and fast descent into the bottom of the final climb. As they made the catch with ten kilometres remaining, the teams came to the front, battling against each other in a way similar to sprint trains fighting for position at the end of a flat stage.
Bora-Hansgrohe and BMC Racing were the most prominent teams leading into the foot of the climb and as the riders crested the toughest part of the final climb it was Richie Porte (BMC Racing) who launched the first attack, creating a gap off the front of the race before being shut down by Peter Sagan.
Sagan controlled the race after the neutralising the climbers attack and then waited for the right moment to sprint. He pulled his cleats out of the pedal, but managed to get his foot back in and sprinted to the win, holding off a rapid finish from Michael Matthews to take the victory.