Froome loses lead in Italy
Chris Froome lost his overall race lead of Tirreno-Adriatico to Vincenzo Nibali as Peter Sagan won stage six.
The irrepressible Slovak broke clear of the pack on the descent of the day's penultimate climb alongside Vincenzo Nibali and Joaquim Rodriguez, before sprinting to a victory in a rain-soaked Porto Sant'Elpidio.
Froome and fellow general classification contender Alberto Contador were both dropped on the last of three ascents of Sant'Elpidio a Mare, a climb that ramps up to more than 27 per cent in gradient and saw many riders forced to dismount their bikes and push.
Although Contador managed to join the lead chase group and crossed the line 44 seconds behind the three leaders, Froome suffered more serious damage.
With 15km to go he was well down the field in the third chase group, but he managed to bridge to the second group and they finished 50 seconds down on Sagan.
The result sees Froome drop to second in the GC, 34 seconds behind Nibali and three seconds ahead of third-placed Rodriguez with only Tuesday's 9.2km individual time trial remaining.
Sagan's outstanding climbing display gave further notice of his prodigious talent and underlined his status as favourite for Sunday's Milan-San Remo Classic.
The 23-year-old said afterwards: "I am very happy for another victory. Today was a very hard parcours.
"Vincenzo did a very good attack on the climb and after on the descent. Then we did the last climb with Joaquim also on the front. Then we just had 10km."
The 209km sixth stage contained very little flat road as the route undulated wildly between its start and finish in Porto Sant'Elpidio.
A 16-man breakaway was allowed to build up an advantage of four minutes 35 seconds, but with Sagan feeling strong enough to challenge for the stage, he ordered his Cannondale team-mates to the front of the peloton and the escapees were all but reeled in on the day's penultimate climb - the third ascent of Sant'Elpidio a Mare.
Nibali (Astana) attacked along with Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) just under 1km from the top and despite not being a climber, Sagan somehow followed.
Contador and Froome could not go with them, but Rodriguez counter-attacked and joined Sagan and Nibali on the descent after the pair had overtaken the last remnants of the breakaway and also dropped Sanchez.
Behind them, Froome looked in danger of losing his place on the GC podium altogether but mounted a spirited recovery, while Contador also clung on desperately to minimise the damage.
The Spaniard later said of Sant'Elpidio a Mare: "The hill was incredible. Sometimes you believe it is not possible on the bike."
The day proved too tough for Mark Cavendish and Andy Schleck, who were among a large group of riders who abandoned the race.
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