RAVENNA, Italy (VN) – Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) grabbed his second stage win at the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, winning a drag race to the line against Sky’s Davide Appollonio and Lampre’s sprint star Allesandro Petacchi.
Provided with a near-perfect lead-out through the twisting final kilometers of a near-pan-flat 12th stage, Cavendish was well ahead of a crash that split the field with 1.5 kilometers remaining in the 184km ride from Castelfidardo to Ravenna.
Saxo Bank-Sungard’s Alberto Contador finished with other overall contenders and continues to hold the maglia rosa enjoying a 59-second lead over Cavendish’s HTC teammate Kanstantsin Sivtsov.
Flat profile and a tight, tight leash
With a flat profile and the Giro one day closer to its appointment with the Dolomites, Thursday’s stage offered one last opportunity for the sprinters to grab a stage win before the profile turns skyward.
With that in mind, none of them were going to let opportunity sneak away and when the day’s break developed the sprinters’ teams didn’t let things get out of hand, monitoring the move closely when four riders moved off the front soon after the start of a
Of course, hope springs eternal in headbangers’ hearts and despite the wary eyes of sprinters upon them, Stef Clement (Rabobank), Michal Golas (Vacansoleil), Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel) and Davide Ricci Bitti (Farnese) settled in for a long ride off the front.
The peloton, of course, wanted no storybook endings for this day and the four never managed to extend their lead much beyond the three-minute mark. Cavendish’s HTC squad stayed near the front, but shared the work with a coalition of other teams, carefully watching the clock and upping the tempo whenever the gap neared the two-and-a-half- to three-minute range.
With 35km to go, the four leaders were pulled back to within two minutes and the sprinters’ squads continued to nibble away at the lead for the next 20k. With 14k remaining, the four were pulled in and attention was turned to the rapidly approaching finish.
Cavendish’s HTC crew stayed at the front, keeping the pace high enough to dissuade the ambitious from attempting a late attack. With 10k remaining, Omega-Pharma, Liquigas, Lampre, Acqua e Sapone and Movistar began moving forward to organize their lead-out trains.
Despite other teams working to set up their sprinters, the HTC squad remained focused and disciplined, keeping Cavendish tucked in behind three teammates in increasingly faster dash to the line.
With three kilometers remaining, other teams’ presence at the front seemed but a fading memory, as HTC kept the pressure on as the day’s route began to negotiate a series of tight turns on relatively narrow roads.
It was one of those turns, that a crash – with no serious injuries – created a gap that left just 15 or 20 riders charging to the line. Cavendish remained calm, glued to the wheel of his most trusted lead-out man, Mark Renshaw.
Behind him, Petacchi stayed on Cavendish’s wheel, hoping to reverse the tables perhaps, after the HTC sprinter had earned his first stage win of this Giro by keying on Petacchi before launching his sprint in the final meters of stage 10 on Tuesday.
Cavendish seemed unfazed by the company and stayed on Renshaw’s wheel until about 120 meters to go. Launching a blistering attack, Cavendish held off all challengers, first Petacchi and then a fast moving Appollonio, cruising across the line with a half-a-bike-length’s advantage.
“I am very happy with this victory,” Cavendish said. “The team did a great job today. We didn’t have any help from any other teams. We had to do it all today. It was very fast in the end and I had no problem with the crash in the last kilometer. Renshaw gave me a perfect lead-out.”
While the crash at 1.5k to go caused a major split in the field, it had no impact on the overall standings, since the incident occurred within the final three kilometers of the stage.
“We had seen before the stage, in the route-book, that it might be a difficult finish,” Cavendish noted. “We knew we had to be close to the front, and we got through it OK.”
Cavendish is leaving and other fast-twitch types are likely to embark on a mass exodus from the Giro at this point. Riders will make a long transfer northward on Thursday night and then face a tough 167km ride from Spilimbergo to a mountaintop finish atop the Grossglockner. And if that weren’t enough to ring a sprinter’s bell, the stage marks just the beginning of a brutal week in the mountains, with no more opportunities for riders of that ilk to strut their talents.
“I’m going home to recuperate before the Tour de France,” Cavendish said, following the 66th victory of his pro’ career and the fourth of the 2011 season.
With or without Cavendish and his colleagues, the Giro will continue Friday and ending the stage atop Austria’s highest mountain.