Van Avermaet takes the stage win and the overall lead in Tirreno-Adriatico

It should have been a day for sprinters, and it was, except the sprinters made a select breakaway in stage 6 at Tirreno-Adriatico, leading to a showdown between Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet. The two classics stars went to the line, with the peloton just behind, and Van Avermaet nabbed the win by half a bike-length.

The stage finished with two laps of an 11.4km finishing circuit that had a downhill and flat part before the riders hit the uphill part in the finale and this is where the race came to life after the early break had been caught. There were bonus seconds on offer in the final intermediate sprint at the first passage of the line and that prompted Tinkoff to take complete control, with Maciej Bodnar and Manuele Boaro setting the pace.

As they approached the sprint, Tinkoff did a lead-out with Adam Blythe, Oscar Gatto and Daniele Bennati for Sagan. Van Avermaet, Michal Kwiatkowski and the Etixx-QuickStep trio of Fernando Gaviria, Matteo Trentin and race leader Zdenek Stybar also wanted to be part of the action and the peloton let those riders contest the sprint.

Blythe swung off and left it to Gatto and Bennati to deliver Sagan to an easy win ahead of Van Avermaet and Bennati. Usually, the riders would have dropped back to the peloton but Bennati went straight to the front to maintain the speed. Suddenly, an 8-rider group with Bennati, Gatto, Sagan, Kwiatowski, Van Avermaet, Trentin, Stybar and Gaviria had a 15-second advantage.

Orica-GreenEDGE started to chase with Luke Durbridge before Marco Coledan (Trek) and Reinardt van Rensburg (Dimension Data) took over. However, they were unable to match the front group in which everyone was working well and the gap had gone out to 25 seconds with 17km to go.

Orica-GreenEDGE returned to the front with Svein Tuft, Astana came to the fore with Valerio Agnoli and FDJ contributed with Johan Le Bon and Alexandre Geniez. Nonetheless, the gap had gone out to 35 seconds when they hit the climb for the second time.

Agnoli set Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) up for an attack in the steepest section and he was joined by Jan Bakelants (Ag2r). They reduced the gap to 20 seconds but Lampre-Merida and Daniel Oss (BMC) brought them back.

Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Johan Le Bon (FDJ) started to work before Fabian Cancellara (Trek) came to the fore. That set Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) up for an attack and when they crossed the line to start the final lap, a group with the likes of the Spaniard, Gianluca Brambilla, Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep), Damiano Caruso (BMC), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek) had gone clear.

The chasers reduced the gap to just 5 seconds but LottoNL-Jumbo brought them back just after the passage of the line. The escapees were now just 10 seconds ahead but it was still too much for Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural) who made a failed attempt to bridge across.

The gap went out to 15 seconds when Movistar started to chase hard with Nelson Oliveira, Alex Dowsett and Rory Sutherland with 8km to go. However, the gap had gone out to 20 seconds two kilometres later which prompted Cancellara to lend them a hand.

The chase was pretty unorganized, with IAM also contributing a bit with Heinrich Haussler, and things didn’t get easier when a crash in the front end split the field and involved Leigh Howard (IAM), Simon Clarke (Cannondale), Oss, Michele Scarponi (Astana) and a few more riders. FDJ tried to take over again but the gap was still 20 seconds when Bennati ended his work with 4km to go.

Bauke Mollema and Stuyven (Trek) attacked on the climb and picked up Trentin who was the next rider to get dropped from the front group. Martin chased hard but failed to bring the Trek riders back.

Van Avermaet had been skipping turns for more than 5km but with the gap coming down, he again lend a hand with 3km to go. Meanwhile, Gaviria fell off the pace and was passed by the three chasers who were 12 seconds behind.

The chasers were caught just before the flamme rouge after a big work by Martin and then Movistar and LottoNL-Jumbo took over, with Dowsett taking a huge turn. At the same time, Gatto emptied himself in the front group but as he swung off just after the flamme rouge, the tactical game started.

LottoNL-Jumbo and Caja Rural chased furiously while Kwiatkowski found himself on the front with no one willing to take over. Hence, he decided to launch a very long sprint with 500m to go and surprisingly Stybar cracked from second position. That created a gap that Sagan had to bridge and he went straight around Kwiatkowski, launching a long sprint. Van Avermaet stayed on his wheel and it became a drag race to the line, with the Belgian narrowly coming around the world champion to take the win. Kwiatkowski rolled across the line two seconds later, with Stybar losing four seconds in fourth. Seven seconds too late, it was Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) who beat Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the sprint for fifth.

On the stage, Van Avermaet picked up a total of 12 bonus seconds and this allows him to take the overall lead with a 7-second advantage over Stybar while Sagan is one second further adrift in third. He now faces the decisive time trial on the final day. The winner will be crowned after the usual 10.1km stage in San Benedetto del Tronto that has ended the race every year since 2012. It’s a completely flat, out-and-back course that suits the biggest specialists and has been dominated by Fabian Cancellara in the past.

Tirreno-Adriatico 2016 – stage 6 results (Castelraimond – Cepagatti):

1 Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)

4:34:14

2 Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

,,

3 Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky)

+02”

4 Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – QuickStep)

+04”

5 Caleb Ewan (Orica GreenEDGE)

+07”

6 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

,,

7 Sacha Modolo (Lampre – Merida)

,,

8 Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal)

,,

9 Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani CSF)

,,

10 Moreno Hofland (LottoNl-Jumbo)

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General classification after stage 6:

1 Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) 20:30:43
2 Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – QuickStep)

+07”

3 Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

+08”

4 Bob Jungels (Etixx – QuickStep)

+21”

5 Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx – QuickStep)

,,

6 Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)

+28”

7 Sébastien Reichenbach (FDJ)

,,

8 Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff)

+30”

9 Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky)

+31”

10 Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

+34”

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