Tournon-sur-Rhone - Italian Fabio Aru broke clear on the final hill and dug deep to hold off the swooping peloton to win stage three of the Criterium du Dauphine on Wednesday.
The 25-year-old Astana man was on his own for a full 13km after cresting the last climb with a slender 10-second lead and needed all the resilience he could conjure to hold off Alexander Kristoff in second and Niccolo Bonifazio in third as the chasing pack crossed the line just two razor-thin seconds adrift.
Aru chased after Tony Martin on the 3km long final climb with an average 8.2 percent gradient, around 20km from the finish. The Sardinian then confidently broke off on his own for a daring solo bid for victory.
Aru was the break-out star of last season, winning the Vuelta a Espana and finishing runner up to Alberto Contador at the Giro d'Italia. The Italian will make his Tour de France debut next month.
Contador held onto the race leader's yellow jersey despite suffering a mechanical failure around 4km from home.
The Spaniard faced a desperate, high-speed chase to catch the peloton after changing his bike.
He maintained his six second lead in the overall standings ahead of Australian Richie Porte, with Tour champion Chris Froome third at 13sec.
Aru is well off the pace after losing more than a minute on Sunday's 3.9km prologue before dropping more time on Tuesday's second stage.
Thursday's fourth of seven stages through the southern Drome region is a 176km run over flat and rolling terrain.
Results from the 187km third stage of the Criterium du Dauphine from Boen-sur-Lignon to Tournon-sur-Rhone on Wednesday:
1. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 4hrs 19min 54sec, 2. Alexander Kristoff (NOR/KAT) at 2sec, 3. Niccolo Bonifazio (ITA/TRE) same time, 4. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/ETI) s.t., 5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR/DDT) s.t., 6. Sam Bennett (IRL/BOA) s.t., 7. Daryl Impey (RSA/ORI) s.t., 8. Nacer Bouhanni (FRA/COF) s.t., 9. Enrico Gasparotto (ITA/WGG) s.t., 10. Arthur Vichot (FRA/FDJ) s.t.
23. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) s.t., 24. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) s.t., 36. Richie Porte (AUS/BMC) s.t., 39. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) s.t.
1. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 13hrs 13min 10sec, 2. Richie Porte (AUS/BMC) at 6sec, 3. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 13, 4. Daniel Martin (IRL/ETI) 21, 5. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/ETI) 24, 6. Jesus Herrada (ESP/MOV) 27, 7. Adam Yates (GBR/ORI) 31, 8. Diego Rosa (ITA/AST) 37, 9. Daniel Navarro (ESP/COF) 43, 10. Bauke Mollema (NED/TRE) 48
12. Thibaut Pinot (FRA/FDJ) 52, 22. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 1:12, 27. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 1:15