Australian Michael Matthews kept his overall lead in the Giro d’Italia as Germany’s Marcel Kittel won his second stage in as many days in a sprint finish in Dublin.
The Giant team rider celebrated his 26th birthday in style by taking the third stage honours ahead of Britain’s Ben Swift and Italy’s Elia Viviani.
Green-EDGE rider Matthews finished in the bunch to retain his eight-second lead and keep the pink jersey the team earned in opening team time trial.
BMC team leader Cadel Evans is 19 seconds off the pace in 14th place in his major race of the season.
Giant-Shimano rider Kittel had to come from a long way back in the final kilometre of the 187m third stage from Armagh.
“We tried to do the sprint preparation pretty early today (Sunday),” said Kittel, who collapsed to the road just beyond the finish, exhausted after an effort he described as “more like an attack than a sprint”.
Approaching the final kilometre there were two 90 degree bends and Kittel disappeared from the front.
“I lost the wheel of (team-mate) Tom Veelers because riders were coming from left and right and I was sandwiched,” he said.
“Afterwards the bunch was in one long line and I was back in 10th or 12th but I thought, I can’t give up.”
Just when Swift seemed poised to raise his arms in victory, the huge figure of Kittel appeared on his shoulder and passed him in the final metres.
Matthews believes Kittel is now the world’s best sprinter, ahead of fellow German Andre Greipel and Britain’s Mark Cavendish, both of whom are missing the Giro.
“On a flat sprint he’s pretty incredible,” said Matthews.
“With the lead-out he has, and the amount of power he has, he’s pretty unbeatable. I guess he’s shown he’s the fastest man in the world.”
It was another stage run under grey clouds and frequently heavy rain that caused several crashes.
Most were minor, but there was a big pile-up with 60km remaining, with the Astana team coming off worst. Five of the Kazakhstan squad went down, including leader Michele Scarponi, but they were all quickly back up.
More serious was another crash as the peloton negotiated a tight roundabout with 35km to go and the five-man break holding on to a minute-and-a-half lead.
Cameron Meyer of GreenEDGE looked dazed but he too was able to finish the stage.
The race concluded the Giro’s three-day stay in Ireland with Riccardo Taranto, chief executive of race organisers RCS, paying tribute to the crowds and their enthusiastic support of the Italian tour.
The Irish start was first mooted in 2009 and since then the race has started in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and it is strongly rumoured that it will start in Dubai in 2016.
Monday is a travel day with racing to resume in Italy on Tuesday.