Chris Froome in pack as Team Sky team-mate Wout Poels leads way at Ruta del Sol

Chris Froome finished safely in the pack and his Team Sky team-mate Wout Poels retained the leader’s red jersey after the third stage at the Ruta del Sol.

Four-time Tour de France champion Froome told reporters after Thursday’s mountainous second stage he was not in peak condition for his first race of the season and the team would be riding in support of Poels’ victory chances.

That was certainly the case on the gently undulating roads between Mancha Real and Herrera, as the Dutchman sat behind a train of Team Sky riders at the front of the peloton.

On a cool but sunny day, the British team dragged the bunch through the Andalucian countryside at a fair pace and then got out of the way in the final kilometres to let the teams with sprinters contest the stage.

Having seen Thomas Boudat of Direct Energie steal victory from under his nose in Wednesday’s first stage, EDF Education First-Drapac’s Sacha Modolo timed his effort to perfection, beating Movistar’s Carlos Barbero by a bike-length, with Nelson Soto of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA third.

The only minor moment of panic was a crash towards the front of the field as the pack made a left turn a few hundred metres from the finish but none of the main protagonists were affected and there was no change in general classification.

Poels still leads by two seconds from Astana’s Luis Leon Sanchez and Lotto Soudal’s Tim Wellens, with former Sky star Mikel Landa, now in Movistar colours, four seconds back, alongside Jakob Fuglsang, also of Astana.

With Saturday’s fourth stage likely to be another bunch finish, the five-day race will be settled in a 14.2-kilometre time trial around the coastal town of Barbate on Sunday.

While Froome is excellent against the clock, at 27 seconds behind Poels he is probably too far back to challenge for overall victory, with Team Sky’s main threat being Sanchez.