Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) steered clear of a major crash in the final 10km of stage six of Tirreno-Adriatico to take his second stage victory of the race ahead of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Maximiliano Richeze (Quick-Step Floors).
What looked like a straight-forward final 10km towards a bunch sprint was shaken up when a momentary lapse of concentration saw Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) clip the back wheel of lead-out man Richeze to crash hard with 7.8km to go.
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Gaviria’s fall set off a chain reaction which brought down a number of other riders and split the bunch in two, with only 60 or so riders left at the front of the race.
Sagan had been immediately behind Gaviria when he crashed, but somehow managed to avoid the Colombian, only being slowed down before having to work hard to regain contact with the front group and take a few risks to move back up to the front.
However this effort may have cost Sagan in the final sprint, and a fresh-legged Kittel came out of the wheel of Richeze, now free of his lead-out duties and sprinting for himself, Sagan was unable to come around the outside meaning that it was Kittel who took his second win of the week.
Meanwhile race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) also managed to avoid the crash, meaning that he will take a three-second lead over BMC Racing‘s Damiano Caruso into the final time trial on Tuesday.
How it happened
The sixth stage of Tirreno-Adriatico looked set to be the second bunch sprint of the race, and saw four riders escape in the opening kilometres. In the move were Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy), Jacopo Mosca (Wilier-Selle Italia), and Artem Nych (Gazprom-Rusvelo) who enjoyed a maximum lead of around three-and-a-half minutes.
Those four riders stayed together until around midway through the stage, when Burghardt upped the pace on the small climb to Ostra and set about ticking off some of the remaining 70km solo.
LottoNL-Jumbo and Quick-Step Floors were responsible for much of the chasing as they worked for Danny Van Poppel and Fernando Gaviria, steadily bringing the gap down to catch Burghardt with 18km to go, the only other real action being the work of the BMC duo of Patrick Bevin and Greg Van Avermaet to leap out of the pack to deny Kwiatkowski bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint on the first crossing of the finish line.
Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) led the peloton for nearly 10km through the finishing circuit, but at the back of the race there was more bad luck for Geraint Thomas, who followed up on his jammed chain from stage four with a puncture with 11km remaining.
Thomas was on his way back to the peloton, but the bad luck transferred to Gaviria who touched the wheel of lead-out man Max Richeze. That crash brought down a large number of riders and leaving a group of around 50 riders left at the front with just six kilometres remaining.
Although not brought down – having somehow stayed upright despite being on Gaviria’s wheel when he crashed – Peter Sagan was one of those caught up in the crash and had to work hard to regain contact and start to make his way back up to the front.
With Gaviria down, it was up to Katusha-Alpecin to control the bunch for Kittel, with Alex Dowsett putting in a big turn before handing over to Trek-Segafredo‘s Ryan Mullen to lead under the flamme rouge.
However even without Gaviria, Quick-Step Floors were intent on challenging for the victory, with Bob Jungels and then Zdenek Stybar trying to set up Richeze.
The Argentian was in a perfect position as he launched his sprint with 250m to go, but was out-gunned by Kittel who held off the charge of Sagan to take his second victory of the week.
The 2018 edition of Tirreno-Adriatico concludes on Tuesday with a 10.05km time trial starting and finishing in San Benedetto del Tronto.
Tirreno-Adriatico 2018, stage six: Numana to Fano, 153km
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin, in 3-49-54
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) Quick-Step Floors
4. Sacha Modolo (Ita) EF Education First-Drapac
5. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors
6. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal
7. Marco Canola (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini
8. Simone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
9. Eduard Grosu (Rom) Nippo Vini Fantini
10. Rick Zabel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin, all at same time
General classification after stage six
1. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, in 25-21-22 25:21:22
2. Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing, at 3 secs
3. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 23 secs
4. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at 29 secs
5. Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac, at 34 secs
6. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 36 secs
7. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 37 secs
8. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at 39 secs
9. George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 41 secs
10. Jaime Roson (Esp) Movistar, at 47 secs