Professional cyclists are human after all.
Rarely, if ever, do you see the world’s best cyclists forced off their bikes due to the severity of a climb – but the 27 per cent gradient of the Sant’Elpidio a Mare did just that.
The sixth stage of Tirreno-Adriatico produced fireworks once again, with a triple ascent of the punishing Sant’Elpidio a Mare taking centre stage.
A number of riders took to two feet to scale the steepest part of the climb, although race director Michele Acquarone later admitted the stage was “too much”. The brutal parcours also saw a raft of riders abandon, including Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Andy Schleck (Radioshack-Leopard-Trek).
Not Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), however, who attacked on the final descent of the Sant’Elpidio a Mare, with Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) for company.
The trio surged on to the finish, where Sagan claimed his second stage win of the race, with Chris Froome (Team Sky) trailing home approximately 50 seconds later to relinquish the race lead to Nibali.
Chris Froome went into the stage with a 20 second advantage at the top of the general classification. While the day started sunny, heavy rain soon made the steep climbs and technical descents an even greater challenge
Team Sky started the day at the front of the peloton to protect Froome
The 27 per cent gradient of the Sant’Elpidio a Mare forced a number of riders off their bikes, including Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Stijn Devolder who, as a two-time Tour of Flanders champion, is no stranger to steep climbs
Not Spartacus, however, who was part of an initial 16-rider breakaway
Peter Sagan heaves his way up the brutal slope
Sagan desperately tries to keep his bike upright
The stage was littered with super-steep climbs but the punishing triple ascent of the Sant’Elpidio a Mare proved the greatest challenge. A number of riders later admitted their were over-geared and race director Michele Acquarone later conceded the stage was “too much”
Vincenzo Nibali attacked on the descent of the final climb and was joined by Joaquim Rodriguez and Sagan, who won the sprint for the stage win at a canter
Froome crossed the line approximately 50 seconds later with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) for company
Nibali now leads Froome by 34 seconds in the general classification going into the final 9.2km time trial