When the critical point of Strade Bianche came, world champion Peter Sagan was there, and his attack sparked the winning move. But the Tinkoff rider had no answer when Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) accelerated up the final climb and finished fourth, just off the podium behind Etixx-Quickstep's Zdenek Stybar and Gianluca Brambilla.
"It is the start of the season and we try our best. I'm satisfied I was able to give all I had. Finishing first, third or fourth is part of the sport of cycling," Sagan said. "I'm happy with today's race. Weather conditions were good and it didn't rain. I was in the front group but in the finale I didn't have the legs to go."
Brambilla was the last man standing from an earlier breakaway when Sagan made his move just inside the 20km to go mark on a 2.4km section of gravel. Stybar was the first rider to respond, then Cancellara bridged across as Brambilla fought to hold onto the surge. The Italian sold out for Stybar, attacking with 4km to go and was only caught inside the final 300m. As Cancellara ramped up the pace to bring Brambilla back, Sagan lost touch and rolled in for fourth.
"Peter was looking good and made the big move on the penultimate sector to form the lead group but lacked a little something at the end," Tinkoff directeur sportif Patxi Vila said. "Overall the performance of the team was good, with five guys in the first main group of around 40 heading into the final, so it was a good situation.
"There were lots of crashes and punctures as you would expect in a race like this, but we managed it quite well today, despite losing Trusov. But he’s OK and is back in the bus with no real problems. So overall we are happy. Obviously we wanted to win and thought we could today, but Cancellara was the strongest at the end. We are on the right line and will keep fighting for the win in the coming races."