Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) showed he has recovered from a nasty bout of gastroenteritis by finishing second behind Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) but ahead of Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) in the high-speed sprint finish on day three of Tirreno-Adriatico in Foligno.
Sagan revealed he lost four kilograms and missed five days of training at the end of his altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada before travelling to Tirreno-Adriatico. He was unsure what impact the illness would have on his form and was just glad to be able to start his final stage race before Milan-San Remo and the cobbled Classics.
The former world champion dropped out of the peloton on the climb up to Pomerance on stage 2 but handled the long 226km ride across southern Tuscany and Umbria on Friday and was able to contest the sprint finish.
"Although my form is still not at the level it should be right now, I was feeling quite better today. I knew it wouldn't be an easy sprint, but I wanted to give it a try," Sagan explained after quickly riding to his hotel near the finish.
Sagan used his bike skills to stay up front in the twisting final three kilometres. He came off the wheel of QuickStep's Zdenek Stybar after the final sweeping left curve and led out the sprint. However, he perhaps lacked a little power, and Viviani was perfectly positioned on his wheel before surging past him to win by a bike length.
Sagan congratulated Viviani on his first-ever stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico and jokingly took a swipe at the Deceuninck-QuickStep soigneur by flicking his back wheel at speed. It was his fifth podium spot of the 2019 season, but Sagan was content to be back in the action.
"It was a nice sprint and close finish, something to be expected when you are against strong sprinters like Gaviria and Viviani," he said. "I'd like to thank the rest of the team for their great work, especially in the final kilometres, where they put me in a perfect position.
"I'm improving day by day and in every stage, and we'll try to get the best result we can."
Sagan, like all the sprinters at Tirreno-Adriatico, will face two stages of suffering the steep Le Marche hills before the second expected sprint finish of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico in Jesi on Monday. The 195km stage will be a final test before Milan-San Remo.