Slovakian Peter Sagan produced a late burst of power to claim victory in the third stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico on Friday, with Michal Kwiatkowski taking the overall lead from Mark Cavendish.
Sagan, of the Cannondale team, finished several bike lengths ahead of Kwiatkowski and Australian Simon Clarke on a slightly uphill finish in Arezzo after 210km of racing from Cascina.
Pole Kwiatkowski, of Omega-Pharma, now leads Colombian teammate Rigoberto Uran in the overall standings by 10 seconds with Orica-GreenEdge rider Clarke third at 13 seconds.
Sagan is not confident, though, of remaining in the lead.
“I knew there wouldn’t be many chances for me [to win a stage] in this Tirreno-Adriatico. Today’s stage was not suited for many riders in the peloton, maybe five or six, including me,” he said.
“I’m happy I’ve hit the target. Now the first important part of my season, the Classics’ season, starting from Milano-Sanremo, is arriving. Performances like this give a big boost of confidence,” he added.
Belgian classics specialist Philippe Gilbert (BMC) had been in contention for the stage win, but failed to follow Sagan’s final acceleration and eventually finished fourth.
A five-man breakaway escaped earlier in the stage, but Europcar’s Bjorn Thurau attacked solo on the second lap of the finishing 11km-long circuit and went on to build a lead of 1 minute on his chasers.
Thurau fought valiantly, but the advance of the chasing peloton prompted him to sit up early in the final lap, when a mix of climbers and overall riders congregated for the finale.
Germany’s world time trial champion Tony Martin, of Omega-Pharma, then whittled the field down with a turn of pace inside the final kilometer.
It left an eight-man lead group climbing their way to the finish, and after Gilbert tried to escape solo with 400m to go, Sagan countered to take the win.
“The end was really a mess. From the last 10km everyone wanted to be at the front,” Sagan said.
“When Gilbert attacked I wasn’t worried, I thought he went a bit too soon,” he added.