Nibali had attacked inside the final 500 metres, and looked set to take stage honours and pick up a 10-second time bonus for his troubles when Sagan sparked the charge behind. With a powerful acceleration, the Slovak ripped out of the chase group with Roman Kreuziger (Astana) in tow, and swept past Nibali to take his second win of the season.
The Liquigas-Cannondale team tactic beforehand had been to try and win the stage with Sagan while simultaneously managing Nibali’s general classification ambitions.
Mission accomplished? Not quite.
“He passed me at twice the speed, I should have been protected,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport. The Sicilian had been careful to praise Sagan’s win after the finish, but hinted that the youngster had respected the wording of the team tactic rather than its spirit.
“The agreement was clear: stage win for him, the GC for me. But when I was in front and I was going for the win and Tirreno-Adriatico, he should have respected me and not brought Kreuziger back up to me,” Nibali said. “He should have defended me. And let’s hope that those seconds don’t cost me the race.”
Third place on the stage was enough for Nibali to gather four bonus seconds, but Sagan’s effort ensured that he would make no further gains on new race leader Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan). Nibali now lies in 8th place, 34 seconds down on the American.
Speaking after the finish, Sagan defended his actions inside the final kilometre and insisted that he had accelerated in response to a move from Danilo Di Luca (Acqua & Sapone).
“I waited, but when I saw that Di Luca had jumped, I went,” Sagan said. “I’m sorry for him [Nibali]. Perhaps it would have been better for us if Nibali had won, thinking of the GC as well. On Sunday the summit finish is for him and I will be at his disposal.
“I didn’t make an error. We played two cards and the important thing was that victory didn’t escape Liquigas.”
Sagan was also adamant that he and Nibali would be able to dovetail their ambitions at next weekend’s Milan-San Remo without any undue problems. “Vincenzo can play his hand on the Poggio, and then if it comes down to a sprint, it would be up to me,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gazzetta dello Sport also noted that Nibali is in the process of negotiating his contract for the 2013 season. His current deal with Liquigas expires at the end of this year, and it is reported that Astana have already tabled a net offer of €4 million for two years in a bid to secure his services.