Peter Sagan (Cannondale) sprinted to victory on the cobbled, uphill finish to win stage three of Tirreno-Adriatico.
Bidding for form ahead of the Classics season, Sagan took the wheel of Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and accelerated beyond the former world champion to storm to the stage win.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) lost his overall lead to team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski meanwhile, with the Pole having finished second thanks to a superb lead-out by Tony Martin.
Prior to the stage, Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) was the biggest casualty of the heavy crash which brought down several riders towards the end of stage two. The Belgian rider was forced to abandon, suffering a deep cut to the same knee he injured at last year’s Tour de France.
Cesare Benedetti (Team NetApp-Endura) attacked very early on and was joined by Marco Canola and Nicola Boem (both Bardiani-CSF), Jay Thomson (MTN-Qhubeka) and Bjorn Thurau (Team Europcar). The bunch remained unperturbed however, allowing them to go clear and open up a sizable gap to the peloton.
Canola, fresh from his attack the previous day, set about defending his King of the Mountains lead as the escapees found themselves more than six minutes clear. Having racked up the points required, he then rejoined the bunch, with the remaining four escapees holding a 4’30” lead into the final 50 kilometres.
The sprint teams continued to bring the lead down, as Thurau opted to take it on alone at the front.
At the back, Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) lost contact after suffering a mechanical, having to chase hard with a fast pace being set in the bunch. He held his advantage into the final lap, taking the bell with a small lead on the finishing circuit but he was finally caught with six kilometres to go.
Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo) took control of the bunch, while Martin kept his team safe just behind. Lotto-Belisol, FDJ.fr and Giant-Shimano all brought riders forward as a frantic finale ensued however, with the Belgian team leading the way into the final three kilometres, Adam Hansen pulling a huge turn at the front.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep came forward, but with Mark Cavendish not in position to join them, BMC Racing took control. The Belgian superteam instead opted to lead out Michal Kwiatkowski, winner last Sunday of the Strade Bianche, with Martin again at the fore.
On the technical, cobbled uphill finish, former world champion Gilbert lead out a long sprint, but Sagan lived up to pre-stage expectations to take the win with a perfectly-timed acceleration.
Kwiatkowski came in second however to replace his team-mate Cavendish in the blue jersey courtesy of a six-second time bonus and a split in the bunch which gives him a 10-second advantage on the general classifiaction over another team-mate, Rigoberto Uran.
Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) was rewarded for taking third on the stage, by moving into the same position overall on the overall.
Tirreno-Adriatico: stage three – result
1) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale – 5.10.17hrs
2) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – ST
3) Simon Clarke (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
4) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing
5) Daryl Impey (SAF) – Orica-GreenEDGE
6) Daniele Bennati (ITA) – Tinkoff-Saxo
7) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Belisol
8) Simon Geschke (GER) – Giant-Shimano
9) Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +4”
10) Lloyd Mondory (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
General classification (provisional)
1) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 9.26.36hrs
2) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +10”
3) Simon Clarke (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE +13”