MARGHERITA DI SAVOIA, Italy (VN) — After months of speculation and scrutiny over the cohesion of his leadout train, sprint ace Mark Cavendish praised the efforts of his Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammates following his stage 6 win at the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, calling the team’s efforts “100-percent brilliant.”
Omega Pharma’s flawless leadout execution was a sign that Cavendish and his new Belgian teammates are finally finding their collective groove.
The outspoken Manxman, who joined the Belgian squad after spending 2012 sharing team resources with GC star Bradley Wiggins at Sky, has run hot and cold over his team’s support in the sprints this year.
Though Thursday’s stage win was his ninth victory of the season, he’s also complained publicly about his leadout train — at Tirreno-Adricatico in March, and again after failing to win Scheldeprijs in early April.
With classics star Tom Boonen injured and uncertain to ride the Tour de France, there was recent speculation that Omega Pharma would attempt to sign recently retired Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi to provide a reliable leadout for Cavendish — a complicated issue Cavendish brushed off at a pre-Giro press conference.
After Thursday’s stage 6 win, his second of this Giro, perhaps Cavendish can put that idea behind him.
On a short, flat stage that was destined for a field sprint, two Australians, Jack Bobridge (Blanco) and Cameron Wurf (Cannondale) broke free of the peloton after 15 kilometers and opened up a maximum advantage of 6:25. Behind, the sprint squads of Cavendish, Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), and race leader Luca Paolini (Katusha) kept the leaders within reach. Omega Pharma’s Serge Pauwels and Gianluca Brambilla rode at the front on a day marked by coastal crosswinds.
“It was 100-percent beautiful today, and not just the leadout — from the beginning,” said Cavendish. “Bobridge and Wurf were two strong guys to have in the breakaway today. We had Serge Pauwels and Gianluca Brambilla pulling from the beginning and we were going strong — really, really well — and they kept going until the last kilometers.
“Then Jérôme Pineau, Michal Golas, Iljo Keisse, and Matteo Trentin took over, and even Julien Vermote came up after getting dropped. He’s a young guy and he really rode today. These guys rode until their legs couldn’t go anymore.”
A massive crash occurred with 32km remaining, holding up nearly half the peloton, including Sky’s GC favorite Bradley Wiggins.
Chaos reigned as riders untangled their bikes and assessed their wounds — among those hurt were mountains classification leader Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge) — while up ahead, the majority of the peloton’s top sprinters had emerged unscathed.
The gap between the two groups opened up to nearly one minute before there was a group decision to ease off the pace, allowing the chase group back on. Led by his Sky teammates, Wiggins caught back on with 6km to go, and even took a massive pull, from 4km out, until safely within the critical 3km to go point, sure not to repeat the mistake from stage 4 that saw the Sky leader lose 17 seconds on the overall.
Sky manager Dave Brailsford had kind words for Cavendish after the stage, saying that the former world champion was not only the best sprinter in the sport, but that he had also displayed world-class sportsmanship by asking his team to slow down in the wake of the late-race crash that split the peloton.
“I think the story today is not just about Cavendish winning, but also about his sportsmanship,” Brailsford said. “You saw two sides of Cav today, and that’s what makes him a great champion. You saw the fact that he is the best sprinter in the world, beyond doubt, but also he is also one of the fairest guys in the peloton. And I think for him, the team, [manager] Brian Holm, they deserve a lot of credit today for recognizing a situation and demonstrating fair play. That’s what it’s all about.”
However, Cavendish said that Brailsford was, perhaps, giving him too much credit.
“Everyone slowed down,” Cavendish said. “We were up there. The other teams were riding, but they weren’t going full gas. I’ll stick up for every team out there, that they weren’t going full gas. There was talk about carrying on riding, but that was it. I don’t think anyone is waiting for me in that situation, I’ll tell you that. I lost the pink jersey in 2009 because of that. But no one was pulling. It didn’t speed up; it slowed down. If it had sped up for a sprint, there’s no way they would have gotten back on. I’ll stick my neck out for all the other teams: no one went full gas after the crash.”
In the final kilometer, Cavendish had Belgians Iljo Keisse and Gert Steegmans guiding him through the field-sprint chaos, and toward the finish line. When Cavendish came around Steegmans with 125 meters to go, it was abundantly clear that everyone else was racing for second place.
“With the crash it made everybody nervous,” said Cavendish. “All the GC teams were there with even less than 3km to go, like BMC Racing Team and Sky, as well as the sprint teams. It was real, real chaos. I just tried to follow Gert Steegmans. He found my territory and then they timed it perfectly. There was always going to be a team that went too early with a headwind finish. My guys waited, waited, they were patient and they hit it at exactly the right time. They just went fast, fast, fast and they launched me perfectly and I was able to go to the line. I was really happy with it. Gert Steegmans showed today that when he’s at his best, he’s nearly the best leadout man there’s ever been.”