Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) had been hoping to win stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico as his way to remember the late Michele Scarponi in his home village of Filottrano. He could only sprint for second place, seven seconds behind solo winner Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), but it was still an emotional day for the world champion.
Sagan and Scarponi never raced on the same team, but they could often be seen joking together at stage starts or at the back of the peloton during the quieter moments of races.
Sagan had just finished the spring Classics when Scarponi was killed near Filottrano the day after returning home from the Tour of the Alps. Yet Sagan travelled to Filottrano to attend his funeral, representing the peloton as world champion but also for personal reasons.
When Sagan won his third world title in Bergen, he dedicated his win to Scarponi and his family. The race was held the day before what would have been Scarponi's 38th birthday.
"He was a special person, he was never sad, he gave off positive energy," Sagan said in Bergen.
Sagan was equally as touched after the stage to Filottrano. He made up for missing out on what would have been a special victory by posing for dozens of selfies and photographs with local fans.
"It was an emotional day for everyone today, but it was nice to see all the crowds come out and see all the balloons for Michele," Sagan told Cyclingnews.
"I came to Filottrano for Michele's funeral last year, and so I wanted to remember Michele by winning the stage. It would have been nice, but that's racing and Michele would understand that too. Each race is different and Yates was very strong. He went away alone, stayed away, and so you can only congratulate him. I couldn't have done anything else.
"The team worked really well all stage," Sagan said. "We controlled things on the flat and on the climbs. BMC took control of the race on the circuits and set a hard pace, then we took over in the finale, with Formolino [Davide Formolo], Rafal [Majka] and Daniel [Oss]. It was a great team performance, but we just couldn't catch Yates."
The stage to Filottrano ended three testing days of racing at Tirreno-Adriatico. Sagan has a chance of victory in Monday's flat stage to Fano but will have to beat the pure sprinters. He is happier knowing that he has clocked up three days of hard, hilly racing, which should give him some excellent form when he recovers in the days before Milan-San Remo and then the cobbled Classics.
"I'm happy," Sagan said. "My form is growing all the time, and I think we've done some good work this week at Tirreno. Things are going well. I'm confident about the big goals of the season ahead."
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