Michal Kwiatkowski may have come third on stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico, but the former world champion was pleased with his performance and gained confidence for the upcoming Milan-San Remo by finishing strong on a difficult 210km stage.
The Team Sky rider went with the winning move just after the final intermediate sprint when Tinkoff's Daniele Bennati drove the pace in an attempt to pull his teammate Peter Sagan clear. The pair were followed by eventual stage winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Kwiatkowski, Oscar Gatto (Tinkoff), overnight race leader Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quickstep), and two of his teammates.
"Today was also a good test for Milan-San Remo. It was a long stage and a thrilling finale with top riders like Sagan, Van Avermaet and Stybar. I felt good, as did my legs which gives me confidence for La Classicissima," Kwiatkowski said, adding that entering into the move with 20km to go was unexpected.
"I'm happy the team was there on the front before the intermediate sprint and I could easily be in the first group. We were pushing together. I knew that it was good to be there on the front with those guys because there was no Tejay van Garderen and Bob Jungels, and they’re good in the time trial," Kwiatkowski said.
As the kilometers ticked down, the peloton drew nearer and nearer, and with two kilometers to go the group had a lead of just 11 seconds, and one half that in the final kilometer. But a surge from Kwiatkowski with 500m to go ensured the Sagan, Van Avermaet and he would stay clear by seven seconds.
"I tried in the end because I saw Stybar suffering and the group was coming, so I decided to go quicker. In the end I had some advantage on the peloton, which was a little but more important than waiting for the sprint."
"Tomorrow I'll try to do the best performance possible," he said. "I believe that I can improve my ninth place. If I can do a really good time trial hopefully I can move up and maybe get into the top five."
Jungels "it was complicated"
Etixx-Quickstep's Bob Jungels, the best young rider in Tirreno-Adriatico and at the start of stage 6 sitting in fifth place overall, had been tipped by a number of riders including Fabian Cancellara as a strong contender for the overall victory.
But the late breakaway that carved out a seven second lead plus bonus seconds for the sprint pushed Jungels from an 11 second deficit to 21 on Van Avermaet. Having three of his teammates in the move to protect race leader Zdenek Stybar only to have him slip out of the race lead made for "a bit of a complicated situation," Jungels said.
"Of course it's a pity we lost the jersey but we will try to fight back tomorrow. We'll see how it goes."
Stybar is still second overall at seven seconds, with Jungels and teammate Gianluca Brambilla at 21 seconds in fourth.
Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema is currently 12th in Tirreno-Adriatico and ruing the cancellation of the key mountain stage on Sunday.
Mollema saw the late breakaway go clear on stage 6, and tried to go across with teammate Jasper Stuyven, but they weren't able to make the bridge.
"It was a hard finale," Mollema said. "They surprised me with that attack at [23k] to go, and it was a pity because my legs were good and I was a bit too far back. So I gave it a try on the last little climb, and I hope to get a couple of GC riders with me to hopefully close the gap, but only Jasper was there. He did a great job trying to close the gap but two guys against 8 in the front, it was not possible."
"Tomorrow will be hard to finish even in the top five, there are a lot of good time trialists in front of me," Mollema said. "I was really disappointed that we couldn't race yesterday; I just wanted to try something today, and on this kind of parcours, this is all I can do."
Scarponi fractures collarbone
Adding to the misery of the peloton on stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico was crash near the front of the chasing peloton that occurred with 5km to go - outside the protected zone for the GC contenders.
A touch of wheels between Dimension Data's Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg and Leigh Howard (IAM Cycling) caused a chain reaction that skittered through the peloton and ended with Michele Scarponi (Astana) standing on the side of the road clutching his shoulder.
The team later confirmed that the Italian had fractured his left clavicle.