Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) finally took his first sprint victory at the Giro d'Italia, powering his way past rival Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre-ISD on a mild incline to win the tenth stage in Teramo. Movistar's Francisco Ventoso took second, leaving third place for Petacchi. Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank-SunGard easily held on to this overall lead.
The closing sprint came down to the two top names, as expected. Cavendish was on Petacchi's rear wheel, and the Italian was left on his own early when Danilo Hondo peeled off. The approach to the finish line had a four percent gradient - minor but noticeable. It wasn't enough to stop Cavendish, who powered his way past the Italian with 150 meters to go. He won by a clear margin, with Ventoso coming in at the last second to claim second place honours to add to his stage six win.
"The team was incredible today, we did all the work and the finish was perfect," Cavendish said as he still gasped for breath seconds after winning the stage.
"I decided it was better to be behind Petacchi because I know I can pass him when I wanted to. I followed him and then opened my sprint with 150 metres to go."
"I made a mistake today and perhaps both I and Danilo [Hondo] didn't feel great after the rest day," Petacchi admitted. "I made a mistake in the sprint, went too early and virtually gave Cav a perfect lead-out."
Contador will wear the maglia rosa again for tomorrow's medium mountain stage and called today "a nervous finish but there wasn't any problem."
The riders started out from Termoli under gray skies with the odd light shower. 189 riders started the stage, but Adam Blythe of Omega Pharma-Lotto soon abandoned.
Almost from the get-go, within the first kilometre, Fumiyuki Beppu (RadioShack) and Pierre Cazaux (Euskaltel-Euskadi) jumped and got away. Yuriy Krivtsov (AG2R) gave chase and soon joined them.
That was the story for the next 160 kilometers. Beppu was the highest-ranked of the trio, at more than 40 minutes behind maglia rosa Alberto Contador, so the group was allowed to go. They weren't allowed to get too far away, though.
The gap quickly jumped to 6:18, which was too much for Saxo Bank-SunGard. They upped the peloton's tempo and from them on the lead vacillated between three and four minutes.
Beppu, RadioShack's Japanese rider, was the strong man in the break. He took the points at the day's only ranked climb, the category four Vasto early on. He also won the intermediate sprint at km 97.9. A fan jumped out on his bike and rode along with the trio to the sprint line - or tried to. He was unable to keep up and fortunately didn't appear again when the peloton rolled in some three minutes later.
The course ranged from lightly rolling to mostly flat, but followed the shoreline for all but the final 24 km. The wind blowing off the water played a role, helping to keep the speed down.
With 50km to go, the gap was heading down under the three-minute mark, and the peloton was careful not to catch the trio too soon, but also not to wait too long. At the 20 km marker, it had sunk to 1:45, with the sprinters' team sharing the work, as the sun finally came out.
With 11.6km left in the stage, the field finally rolled by Beppu, Cazaux and Krivtsov.
Those last 24km inland were slowly ascending. At a rise from 16 to 245 meters, it was not a great climb, but going into the stage there had been questions as to whether it would be enough to stop the weary sprinters.
David Millar of Garmin-Cervelo attacked with 3km to go. He went into full time trial mode, head down and full-out. HTC-Highroad was still working for Cavendish's first sprint win in this Giro, and turned up the speed, catching the Briton just before the flamme rouge.
Danilo Hondo was doing his usual duty for Lampre-ISD teammate Alessandro Petacchi, but surprisingly pulled out early. That left the Italian on his own with Cavendish. Movistar also worked hard to get Francisco Ventoso into position.
Cavendish let Petacchi open the sprint, and when he moved to the side at 150 meters, the Manxman turned on his speed on the slight incline and charged past to take the win by several bike lengths. Ventoso, who already won the sixth stage, was able to get by Petacchi to claim second place.
This article originally appeared on Cyclingnews.com.