Michael Albasini dragged Cooke and Allan Davis to the final kilometre of the twisty finish with Cooke unconcerned about his own chances at the finish.
"Today I was focused on getting Allan to the line," said Cooke on the Orica GreenEdge website. "It wasn't my job to do the sprint today but because of the corners and the skinny roads, doing the lead out lent itself to be on the front. I realized in the last kilometer that Allan had lost my wheel. I was in a good position, so I went for it. I nearly held it to the line.
"The day was tough from the start of the chase," Cooke explained. "We spent a lot of energy pulling back the break. Unfortunately, a lot of the other sprint teams choose not to contribute to the chase, so we were forced to sacrifice riders on the front that we would have liked to have saved for the finish. We didn't hold back today. We took the race by the scruff of the neck to have a chance in the sprint."
It was the second time this season that Sagan has got the better of Cooke, with the Slovakian defeating the Australian in Stage 2 of the Tour of Oman in February – albeit in very different circumstances. On the previous occasion, Sagan led out Cooke and was unchallenged to the finish line. On Monday, the result was only decided with metres to spare.
"Because I wasn't focused on myself today, I wasn't thinking how to win this particular sprint," explained Cooke. "My only focus was delivering Allan to the line. When I realized I was in a good position, I just charged for the line, and Sagan was able to come around me in the end."
Davis finished fifth, after Sagan, Cooke and Ben Swift (Sky) left a gap in their charge for the line.