Peter Sagan (Cannondale) battled another wet day in Tirreno-Adriatico and world's top sprinter, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) today in Italy's Umbrian hillside town, Narni Scalo, and won.
"It happened today, with the cold and rain, and everything, I beat Mark," Sagan said in a press conference. "It's the first time I've been able to take on Mark in a sprint in my career."
In just four short years, Sagan nearly has it all.
The 23-year-old Slovak won stages in every race in the world: four in the Tour of Switzerland last year and three in the Tour de France with the green jersey as a bonus. Now, he has the most precious scalp in the sprint game, Mark Cavendish's.
"He's not a sprinter. He wins sprints, but he's not a sprinter," Cavendish said, still coming to terms with the wet 190km ride through Umbria.
"He's definitely once in a generation rider. He's not a sprinter; no, he's just good."
The perfect storm
The long slog from Tuscany to Umbria had one thing in common with the first two days of the Tirreno-Adriatico, rain. The Race of the Two Seas has become the Race of Flooded Italian Roads.
These roads, however, presented a perfect occasion for Sagan. They flattened into Narni Scalo, but rocked enough beforehand to make it tough on Cavendish, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge).
Cannondale took advantage of the climbs at 18km and 3km from the finish line to put the pure sprinters in difficulty.
"It was good; there was the climb that we did very hard. I think the sprinters felt it in their legs," Sagan explained.
"Orica-GreenEdge pulled in the sprint, we were all lined out. I got on Greipel's wheel. In the last meters, Mark moved up, he didn't have men at that point so he tried to get on Greipel's wheel.
"We were fighting for Greipel's wheel. I put my hand out to stop him! No, I'm kidding. Or shoulders rubbed, but nothing major."
Sagan jumped ahead of Greipel in the sprint and held off Cavendish. Cavendish took second and Greipel placed third. With the bonuses, Cavendish retains his overall lead, now at seven seconds over team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski.
Everything will change tomorrow when the race climbs to 1450 metres to finish at Prati di Tivo.
"You have to try with a rider like this," Cannondale DS Albert Volpi told Cycling Weekly.
"Peter can handle many different finishes, and this one was for him. You just have to have courage to put it on the line. Everything's easier with him, though. If you did the same thing without someone like Peter... Just forget about it!"
In the final kilometres around Narno Scalo, classics riders Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Lars Boom (Blanco) fired. Flecha stayed clear until around 14.5km remaining.
The riders had already passed five hours of racing at the point when Boom attacked. He passed Flecha and went on his own. He told Cycling Weekly he had not planned his move, but since it was a downhill, he tried.
Boom, an experience Dutchman, was impressed with Sagan today.
"Cannondale worked hard for Sagan, and if they make it really hard, then he can win the sprint easily," Boom added.
"I'm not surprised by it, Sagan's a really good rider and he's going to win a lot more races."
Sagan eyes a big classic, one of the only things now missing from his palmarès
"I'll have good condition so I hope to swipe one of them," Sagan continued. "Maybe San Remo, if not San Remo, then Ghent-Wevelgem. If not Wevelgem, maybe Flanders. If not Flanders, maybe Amstel Gold. Who knows?"
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