Same again for Colombia's Juan Sebastian Molano. — AFP

Molano claims second straight Tour Colombia stage

SOGAMOSO, Colombia — Sprinter Juan Sebastian Molano won his second successive stage at the Tour Colombia on Thursday as Tour de France champion Egan Bernal finished safely in the peloton.

UAE Team Emirates' Molano beat compatriots Edwin Avila and Alvaro Hodeg into second and third at the end of the 178km stage from Paipa to Sogamoso at an average altitude of 2,600m.

Ecuador's Jonathan Caicedo retained the leader's orange jersey after finishing in the pack.

It was a ninth victory already this year for UAE.

"The team has a lot of faith in me and the truth is we never had any doubts," said Molano, who moved up to fifth in the overall standings thanks to a time bonus for wining the stage.

"I tried to launch my sprint as close to the line as possible, not so far out like yesterday because these stages ... are tough," the 25-year-old Colombian told ESPN.

Molano also won Wednesday's 152km stage two in another sprint finish.

Caicedo remains atop the overall standings with three team-mates level with him on time -- Colombians Sergio Higuita and Daniel Martinez, who are expected to challenge for the final victory, and American Tejay van Garderen.

Their American EF Pro Cycling squad won Tuesday's opening team time-trial.

But having lost 46sec on the opening stage, Bernal's Team Ineos tried to spring a surprise on Thursday, sending Sebastian Henao into the day's break.

That was caught 16km from the finish but then Ecuadoran Giro d'Italia champion Richard Carapaz tried to steal a march on the sprinters by launching a solo attack one kilometer from the finish.

"Tomorrow we'll be more vigilant that such escapes don't happen," said Caicedo.

Bernal, 23, who won the inaugural Colombian tour two years ago, vowed to attack again on Friday.

"If we have men we'll try something to make the race exciting," he said.

"We're racing in Colombia, you race differently and we're testing how to race here so that the fans can enjoy it. We're going to attack the leaders."

Friday's fourth stage from Paipa to Santa Rosa de Viterbo covers 168km and ends with a third category climb, meaning the overall contenders should come to the fore.

The entire six-day tour is raced at above 2,500m with Sunday's finale ending on the climb to the Puerto de El Verjon at 3,290m.— AFP