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Having dropped Cavendish and many sprinters on the only climb, Sagan finally took his first win since June by beating Ciolek and Debusschere in the sprint on stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico; Quintana defended the lead

Photo: Tinkoff-Saxo

GERALD CIOLEK

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JENS DEBUSSCHERE

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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PETER SAGAN

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TIRRENO - ADRIATICO

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16.03.2015 @ 16:54 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) finally broke a victory drought that has lasted since June when he won today’s penultimate stage of Tirreno-Ardriatico. After an acceleration on the only climb of the day and hard work by Tinkoff-Saxo had been enough to distance Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) and several other sprinters, the Slovakian emerged as the strongest in the sprint by beating Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) while Nairo Quintana (Movistar) got safely through a wet day to defend his overall lead.

 

Peter Sagan has been known as one of the most successful riders in the peloton for a few years but for some reason the Slovakian has not been firing on all cylinders for a long time. In fact, he went into the Tirreno-Adriatico with a long winless run as he hadn’t won a race since June when he took both a stage at the Tour de Suisse and the Slovakian road race championships.

 

His move to Tinkoff-Saxo hadn’t paid off either as Sagan had come up short several times in the Tours of Oman and Qatar and Strade Bianche and despite numerous good results, the elusive first win for his first team had always escaped him. The first part of Tirreno-Adriatico hasn’t been much better as he was second in stages 2 and 3.

 

Today he had his final chance to win a race before Milan-Sanremo in the final road stage of Milan-Sanremo which was held in horrendous and very wet weather. A bunch sprint was the expected outcome but the hard weather and a surprise move on the only climb made it a much tougher affair than most had suggested.

 

Everything seemed to be in control for the sprint teams when a small three-rider breakaway was up the road but suddenly the script was changed on the only climb of the day with 80km to go. Astana made a brutal acceleration and when Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) even tried to attack Nairo Quintana, the peloton split to pieces.

 

As they headed down the descent, the peloton had been split into four groups and while the first three of them merged, the fourth group never made it back. Surrounded by most of his Etixx-QuickStep teammates, big favourite Mark Cavendish found himself in that group alongside fast riders like Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Alexander Porsev (Katusha), Luka Mezgec (Giant-Alpecin) and Tyler Farrar (MTN-Qhubeka).

 

Sagan and Tinkoff-Saxo quickly realized that they had a big chance to turn their unsuccessful race around and they combined forces with Lotto Soudal to keep the chasing group at bay. As a consequence, it was a group of less than 100 riders that would decide the race in a sprint.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo had used most of their energy to ride on the front and so Sagan had to use the rivals lead-out trains to move into position. With 3km to go, the Russian team lost control when Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) hit the front for Lampre-Merida.

 

Impressively, Maciej Bodnar managed to take a final turn for Tinkoff-Saxo but with 2km to go, the impressive MTN-Qhubeka train kicked into action. Matthew Goss led the group until the flamme rouge where Reinardt van Rensburg took over.

 

Gerald Ciolek was the protected sprinter for the African team but he and Edvald Boasson Hagen made the wise decision to allow Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) to take a turn before the Norwegian hit the front. He gave Ciolek the perfect lead-out and the German seemed to be in a great position to win.

 

However, Sagan was on his wheel and when Ciolek launched his sprint, the Slovakian also accelerated. Being clearly the fastest, he distanced his rival convincingly while Jens Debusschere rolled across the line in third.

 

Nairo Quintana had a wet day in the saddle but he survived without any time loss and so goes into tomorrow’s final time trial with a 39-second advantage over Bauke Mollema (Trek). The final race against the clock is a flat 10km affair and it will be virtually impossible for Quintana to lose so much time on such a short distance.

 

A mostly flat stage

After two days in the mountains, it was back into flatter terrain for the final road stage which brought the riders over 210km from Rieti to Porto Sant’Elpidio. Only a single climb at the midpoint was set to challenge the riders and as the stage ended with two laps of a 14.4km finishing circuit along the coast, it was expected that the sprinters would battle it out.

 

The riders took the start in cold and rainy conditions as they headed out to complete their journey to the Adriatic coast. There were three non-starters as Stef Clement (IAM) who had fallen ill, Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Angel Vicioso (Katusha) were unable to continue the race.

 

The break is formed

The bad weather didn’t dampen the attacking spirit and the pace was high right from the start as many riders rode aggressively. At the 5km mark, the first promising move was made by Alessandro Vanotti (Astana), Pirmin Lang (IAM), Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Kristijan Koren (Cannondale-Garmin) and Maxime Mederel (Europcar) but they didn’t make it.

 

While the attacking continued, Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo) left the race and moments later Yoann Offredo (FDJ) also stepped off his bike. After half an hour of racing, three riders finally go clear when Stijn Devolder (Trek) and Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) attacked before being joined by Vanotti.

 

Movistar take control

The peloton slowed down and at the 22km mark, the front trio was already 1.32 ahead. Meanwhile, the exodus continued as Pierre Rolland (Europcar) was the next rider to leave the race.

 

Movistar hit the front and upped the pace slightly but the gap still grew. At the 35km mark, it was 4.20 and it soon reached more than 5 minutes.

 

The gap comes down

That was as much as Movistar would allow them and for some time the Spanish team kept it stable around that mark. After 70km of racing, the gap was 5.45 and now the chase started. 10km later, the escapees had lost a bit of their advantage and were only 4 minutes ahead.

 

At the halfway point of the stage, the gap was only 3.02 and with 100km to go, it was close to two minutes. Movistar were still doing all the work and they briefly stepped off the gas to allow the gap to get back up to 2.30.

 

Contador attacks

The gap even reached 3.20 by the time the riders hit the bottom of the only climb but here things suddenly changed. Astana upped the pace with Andriy Grivko and when the peloton started to split, Contador even tried to attack.

 

The Spaniard didn’t get clear but as Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) led the main group over the top 1.38 behind the escapees – Vanotti had taken maximum points ahead of Devolder and Arashiro – the peloton was divided into four groups. As Cavendish had been left behind, Roman Kreuziger went straight to the front to work for Tinkoff-Saxo in the 30-rider main group.

 

Devolder drops back

Vanotti led Devolder and Arashiro across the line in the final intermediate sprint just as Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) had bad luck to puncture out of the Quintana group. He suddenly found himself in the second group that was 15 seconds behind the main group while a third group was 15 seconds further adrift.

 

Kreuziger’s fast pace brought the gap down quickly and with 61km, it was only 29 seconds. At this point, Devolder had had enough and he dropped back to the main group.

 

Three groups merge

The second and the third group merged and under the impetus of Fabian Cancellara, those two groups made it back to the Quintana group. Moments later, the front duo were caught as Ivan Basso had now hit the front for Tinkoff-Saxo.

 

With Debusschere now in the front group, Lotto Soudal also came to the fore and for a long time Pim Ligthart and Basso worked hard on the front to keep the Cavendish group at bay. They even got some help from Vanotti who soon stopped his work.

 

Vanotti attacks again

Instead, Vanotti attacked again with 35km to go and he quickly got an advantage of 20 seconds. Ligthart and Basso didn’t react and so the door was open for Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r) to attack just before the first passage of the line which also signaled the final intermediate sprint. Vanotti won the sprint ahead of Vuillermoz while Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) beat Wout Poels (Sky) in the battle for third to take away the final bonus second from Pinot’s rivals.

 

Vuillermoz joined forces with Vanotti and those two worked well together to maintain a 20-second advantage for most of the first lap of the circuit while Basso and Ligthart rode on the front. They briefly got some help from Christopher Juul (Tinkoff-Saxo) but the Dane quickly blew up. At this point, the Cavendish group was 5.25 behind and they had given up.

 

The break is caught

At the start of the second lap, the gap was down to just 10 seconds and this was the signal for Vuillermoz to attack. He easily distanced Vanotti who was caught and managed to extend his advantage back up to 20 seconds. The Cavendish group was now at 7.40.

 

With 8km to go, the sprint trains started to get organized behind Basso and Ligthart who finally blew up one kilometre later. Bodnar now took over and he got some assistance from Kreuziger. Those two riders did all the work to bring back Vuillermoz with 3km to go. That’s when Pozzato took over and moments later Sagan had taken the win.

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