BRESCIA, Italy (AFP) —Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) secured his maiden Giro d’Italia title on Sunday as Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took his fifth stage win on the 21st and final leg into Brescia.
Nibali finished the weather-battered 96th edition with a lead of 4 minutes and 43 seconds over Rigoberto Uran (Sky) with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) third at 5:52.
After negotiating the final stage successfully, an emotional Nibali said: “I’ve achieved one of my lifetime dreams. I can’t believe it. It’s unbelievable.”
It was Nibali’s first victory on the three-week Italian race, in which he finished third in 2010 and runner-up in 2011. Last year, he finished third overall on the Tour de France, won by Sky’s Bradley Wiggins.
Nibali succeeds Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) as winner of the race’s maglia rosa after the Canadian, followed by an ailing Wiggins, dropped out before the final week due to illness.
The 28-year-old Nibali is the first Sicilian to win the race and is the first Italian winner since Michele Scarponi, who was handed the 2011 title following Alberto Contador’s disqualification for doping offenses.
Nibali took possession of the pink jersey after the stage-8 time trial won by Alex Dowsett, and despite a strong challenge from Evans he took a massive step towards overall victory with his victory in Thursday’s 18th stage, a 20.6km uphill time trial.
It took his lead over Evans, the 2011 Tour de France champion, to over four minutes.
After the first of two consecutive days in the Dolomites mountains was canceled on Friday due to snow and sub-zero temperatures at high altitude, Nibali capped his campaign with a second stage win atop the Tre Cime di Lavaredo climb on Saturday, which saw Evans drop to third.
Having crashed twice on stage seven, Nibali then had to endure, with the rest of the peloton, a rain-lashed and snow-blasted second half of the race.
“Can you remember a Giro that’s finished without the riders coming home with a tan?” Nibali said. “The weather made the race all the more difficult. But I sincerely believe that if there had been more climbs the result would have been the same. I felt I had the edge over the others.”
Evans agreed that the Sicilian was a worthy champion, and said he would now concentrate on the Tour.
“Beating Nibali with the kind of form he was in was always going to be difficult,” said Evans. “Now I’ll prepare for the Tour. That’s the big objective of the team this year.”
Cavendish, meanwhile, finished a triumphant campaign in style by dominating a hectic sprint for the finish on a tight circuit to take his victory tally on the race to 15.
The Isle of Man rider came into the race expected to dominate most of the five sprint finishes, especially in the absence of a number of top rivals.
He won the opening stage in Naples and stages 6, 12, 13 and 21.
“I’m delighted, really happy,” Cavendish said in Italian.
The Omega Pharma sprinter, who also has 23 stage wins on the Tour de France and three from the Vuelta a España, also secured the race’s red jersey for the points competition.
Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), meanwhile, secured the race’s white jersey for the best-placed rider aged 25 or under.
He took the jersey from Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) after his fourth-place finish on Saturday’s epic 20th stage, when the peloton climbed through a blizzard to the finish.
Betancur finished in fifth place overall.