World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) says that he thought the stage to Fermo in central Italy today was going to be too hard with its ramps of 22 per cent and uphill finish.
Sagan surged from behind to pass Thomas and edged out Frenchman Thibaut Pinot in the hilltop village overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Afterwards, he pulled the brakes on his Specialized bike without celebration wheelie or any other showmanship.
"No," Sagan responded when asked if he was sure of winning. "I told Rafal Majka to don't do anything stupid for me because I might not have been up there for the finish. I thought it was too hard for me from what I saw."
They raced around Fermo in the final 30 kilometres. That loop, including the 1.5km section with 22 per cent gradients, gave Sagan a preview of the final that he would face.
He survived when others faded. Going into the final loop, the rainbow jersey was left with the GC contenders. It was impressive considering 27-year-old Sagan said that he "didn't like today's stage."
Geraint Thomas told Cycling Weekly that he was surprised that Sagan remained with the group, too.
"Who knows what the climbers were thinking when they saw me with 500m to go," added Sagan. "I wasn't sure if they were thinking of attacking or not."
A journalist suggested that he "destroyed" the climbers with his surprise surge from behind. "I hope so," he responded. "It was last chance otherwise if they'd attacked me, I'd have been left behind on the road."
Sagan has not won three races so early in the season since 2013. His focus is on the cobbled Classics, winning the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. Despite Sunday's uphill finish over the classification riders, he will not focus on the Ardennes Classics.
"I've always said that if I want to do Paris-Roubaix, it’s very difficult to do the second part of the Classics in the Ardennes. I want to do well at Flanders and Roubaix and perhaps if I get sick of them, I'll change my mind.
"It's also boring racing on the road all the time... I'm joking of course. All the Classics have a special history but you have to chose between the first or second part, you can't do both.
"I want to point out that if today was a one-day race, then perhaps I wouldn't have been up there," he added.
"All the climbers had raced hard yesterday, while I took it steady up to the finish on Terminillo. Stage races are different and so I perhaps felt fresher today."
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