Peter Sagan (Cannondale) stormed to the line to take victory on stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico from Cascina to Arezzo, holding off Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Simon Clarke (Orica GreenEdge) in the process. The final uphill sprint was difficult enough to alter the overall classification, with overnight leader Mark Cavendish relinquishing his slender lead to his teammate Kwiatkowski.
Sagan, who came up short in stage 2, had no such troubles as he sprinted for the line, after Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) accelerated through the winding finale with 400 meters to go. The finish, with its tight circuit roads and testing incline, was a perfect battleground for the two Classics stars to pit themselves against each other, but the Belgian appeared to accelerate too early, and despite opening up a marginal gap he was easily chased down by Sagan. Gilbert was then forced to settle for fourth as man-of-the-moment Kwiatkowski and then Clarke surged past.
“I’m really happy to have won,” Sagan said. “As soon as I saw the profile and finish of this stage I wanted to do well. It went perfectly and I got it. I want to dedicate this stage to my mum, who is not too well at the moment. The win is important for me and for the team. I’ve got to thank my teammates because they protected me in the final kilometres. In the finale I used Bennati’s wheel to move back up to the front. I’ve got to thank him for that. It helped me save energy that I used to produce a good sprint.”
Sagan showed he is finding some good form in time for Milan-San Remo and the other Spring Classics. “I hope so,” he admitted. “As I’ve always said, the real season has started after all the warm-up races and training. It’s winning now that matters.”
Local rider Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo) finished in sixth after his team laid the groundwork for his challenge, with important pace-setting in the final few kilometres.
How it happened
The riders were again welcomed by warm sun as they lined up for the start on the outskirts of Cascina, and the perfect conditions quickly inspired the first break of the day and convinced the peloton to let them go. The only riders not to start were Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) and Italy’s Jacopo Guarnieri (Astana). Both crashed heavily in the finale of stage two, suffering nasty injuries.
Van den Broeck arrived at the team bus with blood covering his lower leg after stage two. He needed stitches in his wound and headed home to Belgium for a complete check-up on the same knee he injured so badly last year at the Tour de France. Guarnieri tweeted before the stage that x-rays revealed he had fractured the fibula bone in his lower leg.
Soon after the start, Sergio Pardilla (MTN-Qhubeka) retired due to pain in his wrist. Dario Cataldo (Team Sky) also threw in the towel later in the stage, leaving Richie Porte without a key teammate as the mountain stages are about to begin. The break of the day contained five riders, with Bardiani-CSF rider Marco Canola getting support from teammate Nicola Boem to defend the climber’s jersey. Also in there were Jay Thomson (MTN-Qhubeka), Bjorn Thurau (Europcar) and Cesare Benedetti (NetApp-Endura).
The five riders gained three minutes after just five kilometres and the gap grew to five minutes as the race cut across the heart of Tuscany. Canola was first to the top of both climbs to secure maximum KOM points. He then sat up, and drifted back to the peloton, leaving the four others to fight on. Omega Pharma-QuickStep drove the chase in defence of Mark Cavendish’s overall race lead.
The race arrived in Arezzo for the first time with 57km to go. The peloton would pass through the climb to the finish a further four times, ensuring they would know how to judge their finishing effort. Everyone quickly realised it was not going to be a normal sprint finish with a final climb and cobbled, twisting streets. The lead of the break was down to 4:30, with Lampre-Merida and Omega Pharma-QuickStep again leading the chase.
On the second climb up to the finish, Thurau threw caution to the wind and attacked alone, clearly in pursuit of some solo glory than trying to stay away from the peloton. He quickly carved out a lead of one minute by the time he completed one of the 11km laps but the peloton was chasing hard behind. Trek Factory Racing also drove the chase on the flat part of the Arezzo circuit, lifting the speed to above 50km/h. Thurau refused to give up, showing the time trial skills of his father. However, his gap melted on the climb to the finish and he crossed the line with just a 22-second advantage. On the final lap Thurau sat up, paving the way for Tinkoff-Saxo and a cluster of other teams to vie for control over the field. A mixture of overall contenders and sprinters ushered their men forward as they looked to remain in contention.
It was Tony Martin who led the peloton inside the final 800 meters, the world time trial champion splintering the field with only a handful of riders able to latch onto his coattails. One of them was Gilbert but despite the BMC rider’s aggressive turn of speed he was forced to watch as Sagan and Kwiatkowski settled upon the stage win and the leader’s jersey, respectively.