Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) won the third stage of Tirreno-Adriatico on Friday in a hotly contested uphill sprint finish.

The 203-kilometer stage that began in Cascina ended in Arezzo, where the peloton did five laps of 11km each around the historic Tuscan city.

With the peloton mostly together — save for a few stragglers — in the final few kilometers, every contender for the stage win was near the front of the race on their teammates’ wheels.

Van Avermaet hitched a ride with teammate Daniel Oss in the final 2km and launched his sprint with 200 meters left on the uphill finishing chute. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick-Step) took off as well but were not able to beat the Belgian to the line. Sagan was second and Stybar was third.

Van Avermaet is now the overall race leader, as he holds a 2-second lead over Sagan and an 8-second gap over previous leader Adriano Malori (Movistar).

“I knew this finish would suit me. The last 200 meters I was in front and it was still far. But I [was able] to keep the guys off,” Van Avermaet said afterward. “It’s always nice when you get the first victory of the season, especially in a WorldTour race. I’m very happy with this win and the leader’s jersey.”

The peloton swallowed up an early break of five riders with 18km remaining, thanks in large part to Tinkoff and its efforts. As the peloton entered the final lap around Arezzo, other teams began to ride at the sharp end as they tried to position their sprinters ahead of the upfill finale.

With 5km left, the peloton was spread out all across the road. A handful of sharp turns and roundabouts in the final few kilometers meant it was essential for the contenders to be as close to the front as possible.

The most difficult turn was a right-hander with 2.7km left, which the peloton took cautiously to avoid a crash. From that point, the final push to the line was on.

Oss found himself at the front of the race with 1.7km left, with Van Avermaet glued to his wheel. Nothing changed as the group passed under the flamme rouge signifying the final kiloneter of racing, but shortly after a Katusha tried his luck and surged ahead. He was quickly caught as the road pointed uphill at a max gradient of 11 percent.

With Van Avermaet still on Oss’ wheel with about 700 meters left, Sagan, Stybar, and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) were all right there, cranking out the watts and trying to get to the line first.

Van Avermaet launched his winning move with about 200 meters remaining and edged Sagan by half a bike length.

The seven-day race resumes with Saturday’s 218km stage 4.