The Deceuninck-QuickStep riders and team staff hugged each other and celebrated at the team bus after Julian Alaphilippe's surprise sprint victory at Tirreno-Adriatico, happy to have taken win number 18 of the season and to have outwitted their sprint rivals.
The mood was not so celebrated at the other buses, with an air of embarrassment and frustration that Deceuninck-QuickStep had won again. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) are expected to be Deceuninck-QuickStep's biggest rivals for Milan-San Remo, but they were caught out by Elia Viviani's decision to let Alaphilippe contest the sprint.
The 195km stage to Jesi was the last chance for the sprinters and their teams to test their form and tactics before Saturday's Milan-San Remo. Deceuninck-QuickStep showed they are ready for any scenario and able to change tactics on the go. Their rivals can only learn from their mistakes and hope the fatigue of the long stages at Tirreno-Adriatico will give them the form to take on the Belgian team on the Poggio or in the sprint up San Remo's legendary Via Roma.
Sagan came out of the Bora-Hansgrohe bus to speak to Slovakian television reporters, sign autographs and pose for selfies, but he was not happy with his sprint or fifth place.
"That's how it goes…. I don't know if they'd planned that move for the finish," Sagan told Cyclingnews.
"I was too far forward in the final kilometre. It could have been the best place to be if there was a crash or something, but I was too far forward, and there was not much I could do."
Sagan's only victory so far in the 2019 season has been a stage win at the Tour Down Under. He led out Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Sam Bennett in the Vuelta a San Juan sprints. He was hit by a stomach infection during the final days of an altitude training camp, revealing he missed five days training and lost four kilogrammes.
He finished second behind Viviani in Foligno on Friday and rode within himself on the hilly stages at the weekend. He made it clear he is not worried about his form for Milan-San Remo.
"Things will be totally different on Saturday at Milan-San Remo," he concluded solemnly.
Heavy legs convince Gaviria to avoid the sprint
The mood was equally quiet at the UAE Team Emirates team bus after Gaviria had opted not to contest the sprint due to fatigue of the hilly stages of Le Marche. Simone Consonni tried his hand and finished 10th, with Gaviria finishing 63rd in the pack.
"I went deep in the last two days to work hard and to finish inside the time limit, thinking of the races coming up. I tried to stay up there on the climbs and so today I just didn't have the legs," he told Cyclingnews.
"We've done some long hard races, but I think that'll be good for the Classics. They start on Saturday with Milan-San Remo and we'll see what happens. Last season I broke a finger here in Tirreno-Adriatico so I'm happier this year. I'm not worried. I've got some days to rest up and recover. I know I'm ready."
Gaviria will team up with Alexander Kristoff for Milan-San Remo, with the two sprinters as UAE Team Emirates' leaders. They will be hoping the race finishes in a sprint in the Via Roma but have to decide who will sacrifice their chances for the other and lead out the sprint.