Peter Sagan finished second to Marcel Kittel in the stage 6 sprint at Tirreno-Adriatico but arguably produced the outstanding performance of the day with the way he chased back to the peloton after changing bikes following Fernando Gaviria's crash at just seven kilometres to go.
Sagan has pulled off some incredible sprints and bike moves during his career but this was arguably his best, even if it gave him his third second place of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico.
The world champion was on Gaviria's wheel when the Colombian seemed to touch wheels with his teammate ahead of him. Sagan somehow managed to avoid crashing but was hit from behind and slowed almost to a stop.
He was forced to make a rapid bike change and then made a huge effort to catch the line of team cars behind the peloton. He seemed to be running out of time and road but was piloted up to the front by Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Daniel Oss as the kilometres ticked down. Sagan bunny hopped a kerb to take a direct line at a roundabout with two kilometres to go and somehow made sure he was on Kittel’s wheel as the peloton reached the final kilometre and prepared for the sprint.
Not content with a placing, he even tried to come around Kittel in sight of the line but the German timed his sprint perfectly to win. Sagan was second, ahead of Maximiliano Richeze (Quick-Step Floors).
Despite his superb - almost impossible - effort, Sagan was surprisingly modest about what he had done.
"Sometimes I can do some things, sometimes I can't. Today, I had bad luck but also good luck at the same time. It would've been better first place, but I don't have to have everything," Sagan said after showering and before signing autographs and posing for selfies with the huge crowd that was waiting at the Bora-Hansgrohe bus.
"If the fans appreciate that, then I'm very happy to do that for the fans, it's nice. I don't care about victories, it's more about the show," he said.
"It's good, I'm happy with the performance but, well, it's second. I'm happy I didn't crash, I'm healthy and that's the more important thing."
Sagan's late pursuit of the peloton was intense and adrenaline fuelled but he was able to recall every moment.
"I was on his [Gaviria's] wheel when he crashed. I started to brake a little bit and guys from behind hit me from and broke my rear wheel. Then it was impossible to continue," Sagan explained.
"I got back to the group, but I had a broken wheel and it was impossible to go because the wheel just wouldn't turn, it was touching the frame. I stopped Bodnar and tried to change the rear wheel but at the same time the car came and I changed the bicycle.
"I tried to return to the group but it was almost impossible. Then I passed one car, then another group, and another; there were a lot of groups. I got back but I was totally done. I tried to pass the riders and to recover for the sprint but I finished second by a very small difference. I was encouraged when I got to the front but your legs feel four kilometres [of chasing] for sure."
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