March 16, 2015

PORTO SANT'ELPIDIO, Italy (AP) Peter Sagan sprinted through the rain to win the penultimate stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico on Monday, while Nairo Quintana retained the overall lead heading into the final day.

Sagan won a mass sprint to complete the victory in 5 hours, 4 minutes, 14 seconds in difficult conditions over the 210-kilometer (130.5-mile) route from Rieti to Porto Sant'Elpidio, the sixth stage of the race across central Italy.

The Slovak sprint specialist pumped his fists in the air as he crossed the line ahead of Gerald Ciolek and Jens Debusschere for his first victory for Tinkoff-Saxo, after two second-place finishes in this year's Tirreno and 15 runner-up spots overall this season.

''Finishing second so often was bad because I wanted to win,'' Sagan said. ''I honestly don't know how many second places I got. So many. It could have been a load of first places.

''But it's all an experience, life is like that too, sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down.''

Quintana, who was runner-up last year, tops the overall standings, retaining a 39-second advantage over Bauke Mollema and a 48-second lead over Rigoberto Uran.

Tuesday's final stage is a 10K (6.2-mile) individual time trial around San Benedetto del Tronto.

''I expected my rivals to try to do something on a day with such difficult conditions,'' Quintana said. ''But it went exactly as I wanted.

''Tomorrow's stage has to be raced with maximum speed. There won't be any secrets and no place to hide. I think the advantage that I have is enough.''

Sunday's stage was a tough one, with snow falling heavily on the difficult climb to Terminillo. There were several withdrawals before the start of Monday's stage and several more during the route as the rain continued to lash down on the riders, who also had to endure low temperatures.

Alessandro Vanotti, Stijn Devolder and Yukiya Arashiro broke clear after 15K (9.3 miles) and had a lead of nearly six minutes before the peloton started to reel them in.

The Tinkoff-Saxo team, which was riding for Sagan's bid for a stage win and Alberto Contador's faint hopes of retaining his Tirreno title, upped the pace on the ascent up to Montelparo - the sole categorized climb of the day - and cut the gap to 1:34.

The three leaders were caught with 51K (31.7 miles) remaining before Vanotti broke again and established a lead of 25 seconds as he approached Porto Sant'Elipidio before the two final laps of 14.4K (9 miles).

Alexis Vuillermoz left the peloton and bridged the gap to Vanotti, with the two building a lead of 30 seconds. The Frenchman then left Vanotti alone but was reeled in with 3.2K (two miles) to go as the teams set up their riders for the sprint finish.

Sagan opened his sprint at the same time as Ciolek and quickly opened up a lead of a bike length over the German cyclist.

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