Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) admitted that stage five of Tirreno-Adriatico on the short but steep 'muri' climbs of Marche region had been a crazy day of racing and conceded that his victory on the uphill finish in Fermo ahead of some of the best climbers on the peloton was equally as incredible for him to take in.
The world champion somehow managed to close a gap on the leaders after the second assault of the 14% 'Muro' up to Fermo with three kilometres to go. He then bossed his way to the front, chasing down an attack by Rigoberto Uran and psyching out the other riders on the last climb, before diving into the last corner in first place and sprinting to the line.
It was a superb moment of bike racing and the crowd roared in admiration of his performance and victory. The riders he had beaten both mentally and physically could only drop their heads in disappointment and perhaps silent admiration.
Sagan admitted he had surprised himself with his performance in the finale and his stage victory. "I told Rafal [Majka] not to do anything stupid for me because I might not have been up there for the finish. I thought it was too hard for me from what I saw of the climb," Sagan said.
"It was a crazy day…. We went hard all day. There were the attacks to get in the break, then Vincenzo [Nibali] put his team on the front to close it down. Then there were others who attacked and Movistar rode like crazy to close it down. When we got to the circuit, they started attacking again. It was hard all day. Now I'm knocked out too."
Sagan admitted that he had played mind games with the climbers in the final kilometre, bluffing by riding on the front, as if in a high-stakes poker match, using his positioning and ability to convince himself he could win.
"Who knows what the climbers were thinking when they saw me with 500 metres to go? I wasn't sure if they were thinking of attacking or not," Sagan explained.
When it was pointed out that he had destroyed his rivals mentally by moving to the front in the final kilometre, he said: "I hope so… It was my last chance; if they'd attacked me I'd have been stuck to the road."
Sagan showed little pity for his rivals in the uphill sprint. It was arguably one of the best wins of his hugely successful career, but he also had the humility to admit he had a slight advantage on the climbers he beat at the finish.
"I want to point out that if today was a one-day race, then perhaps I wouldn't have been up there," Sagan said. "All the climbers had raced hard yesterday, while I took it steady up to the finish in Terminillo. Stage races are different and so I perhaps felt fresher today."
No plans to target Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Sagan's victory on such a tough stage and on such a testing finale naturally sparked questions about his chances in hillier Classics in the future. Surely he could one day win Liege-Bastogne-Liege or the other Ardennes Classics?
Once more, he revealed a vein of modesty and balance with his reply, sprinkled with his own sense of humour.
"I didn't actually like today's stage..." he said letting out his deep growling laugh at his own joke, before giving a logical explanation why we probably will never seem him ride the Doyenne of the classics Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
"I've always said that if I want to do Paris-Roubaix, it's very difficult to do the second part of the Belgian Classic, the Ardennes races," he explained.
"I want to do well at Flanders and Roubaix. Perhaps if I get sick of them, I'll change my mind, but I don't think it'll happen.
"It's also boring racing on the road all the time… I'm joking of course. All the Classics have a special history but you have to choose between the first or second part, you can't do both. Now the sport is different to in the past. The level is different and now the sport is very different."