British cyclist Mark Cavendish won the 11th stage of the Tour of Italy in a sprint finish following a 214km run from Turin to Arenzano on Wednesday.
Italian Danilo Di Luca retained the leader's pink jersey and maintained his lead of 1 minute, 20 seconds over Russian Denis Menchov, while Australian Michael Rogers is a further 13 seconds back with American Levi Leipheimer at 1 minute 53 seconds.
"I seem to be in better form than I thought I was," said Cavendish. "I was already happy with one victory (in Milan) but two wins are better than one. I was a bit worried that I would suffer on the Turchino (a climb 20km from the finish) and thought it was going to take the sting out of my legs.
"But I seemed to be floating up there. It's unbelievable how deep you can go when you can smell the finish."
Di Luca refused to believe that the winner's jersey was his to lose. "There aren't many teams that can win the stages and it was for this reason that it was so quick," said the Italian. "There's a lot of work to do, but there are some hard stages."
On the eve of his 24th birthday, Cavendish timed his sprint to perfection after being led in by Australian Mark Renshaw and came home clear of American Tyler Farrar and Italian Alessandro Petacchi. Australia's Allan Davis took fourth while Frenchman Sébastien Hinault completed the top five stage rankings.
Thursday will feature a crucial individual time-trial over 60.6km between Sestri Levante and Riomaggiore and a stage that is certain to shake up the overall standings.
Minute's silence for Fabio Saccani
On a sunny hot day, a minute of silence was observed before the start of the stage in memory of 69-year-old motorbike rider Fabio Saccani who died in a crash on the way to the start of Tuesday's stage.
There were a series of brief attacks before Russian Vladimir Isaichev broke away on a solo break attack with 110km to run as he went looking for his first ever stage win as a professional. The Xacobeo-Galicia rider opened up his biggest lead of more than seven minutes with 45km to run before the peloton took matters into hand and began to reel him in.
A group of 30 riders broke away from the main bunch as the stage hit the final category 3 climb but it was Lampre veteran Marco Marzano who then attacked this group and pulled away alone in pursuit of the flagging Isaichev. The Italian ruthlessly closed down on the Russian leader before going past the 23-year-old Isaichev with 15km to race.
With the mass sprint finish always on the cards, Marzano was caught as the race swung into the outer limits of Arenzano and he was finally engulfed by the peloton with just over 20km to the finish.
Lance Armstrong had a spell at the front of the peloton near the summit of the final climb as his Astana team led the race for home, before Stefano Garzelli cheekily burst over the peak and tried to make a daring downhill sprint for the line.
With Garzelli also caught, Armstrong finally gave up his quest to win the stage with 8km to run as Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych then tried his luck and made an attack of his own.
It was a disastrous day for Filippo Pozzato who not only suffered mechanical problems but also had a heavy crash that left him with a huge gash in his upper thigh. Leipheimer also crashed after hitting a water bottle midway through the race.
"Not my day; one hand on the bars while drinking and someone dropped a full waterbottle in front of me, hit it straight on with my front wheel," Leipheimer Twittered after the race.
With the peloton roaring home, all potential escapees were swept up and it came down to Cavendish to again show his talent, with a successful sprint to the line and his third stage win of this year's Giro.
© AFP 2009
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