This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
He’d waited almost three weeks but in the sprinters’ final opportunity Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini - Selle Italia) finally delivered, winning stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia. It was a triumph worth waiting for, worth the jibes he’d received from the Italian press who questioned why he had failed to impress in any of the previous sprints, and certainly worth remaining in the race for after so many of his sprint rivals had packed up and gone home.
“I’m still very young and I’ve got to develop a lot as a rider. I’ve really suffered on the climbs in this Giro d’Italia but 198 riders started the Giro and now there’s only 168 left. That proves something," Guardini said.
“During the first week of the Giro d’Italia I didn’t believe in myself enough. I’d been struggling in the sprints and things hadn’t been going my way. I knew this sprint was the last chance I had. I knew it suited me because it was so flat. I knew my chance was today or that I’d have to wait until next year. I knew I could beat Cavendish but I knew I had to jump first and by doing that today, I’ve realised what I can do.”
“The difference between winning this sprint and winning one after 250km of racing all comes down to experience. A few years ago Cavendish struggled on the climbs and he’s amazing, as he proved by winning Milano-Sanremo at the first attempt and at my age. I think I’m a similar kind of sprinter as Cavendish but my idol was Robbie McEwen who retired a few days ago.”
Spectacular scenery during stage 18
Stage 18 from San Vito Cardore to Vedelago, less than 150km long and on flat and downhill roads, marked the sprinters last chance of taking a stage and everything pointed towards Cavendish’s fourth stage win of the race. Matthew Goss, Mark Renshaw and Theo Boss had long since left the race and Cavendish, who snapped up the maximum points on offer at the day’s intermediate sprint, looked as hungry as ever.
The world champion appeared crowded out though as the peloton raced towards the line. With Peter Kennaugh out of the race Sky was missing a key ingredient from its train and Bernhard Eisel and Geraint Thomas were forced to work overtime inside the final 10 kilometres. Omega Pharma-Quickstep and Saxo Bank decided to take charge but inside the final kilometre Eisel nudged his way through the chaos and towards the front. Thomas and Cavendish were glued to his wheel and the stage winning headlines were being prepared.
There was the inevitable and messy scramble for the world champion’s wheel, a position almost as difficult to achieve as a sprint win itself. Roberto Ferrari and Guardini were the principle contenders, with the Farnese rider eventually yielding as Thomas hit the front inside the final 500.
But while Cavendish’s glory looked almost inevitable, an Italian 22-year-old from Pregnago thought otherwise, launching his sprint just as Cavendish raised himself from the saddle. The Italian went on the right, first around Ferrari and then the tiring Thomas as Cavendish struggled on the left.
As Cavendish looked to his right the writing was on the wall, and Guardini was able to raise his hands and saviour the biggest day in his career. A new winner, a new headline, a new sprinter has arrived.
The happy winner, Andrea Guardini
After yesterday’s mammoth stage through the Dolomites and the legendary climb up the Passo Giau, the riders at this year’s Giro d’Italia set off for their final flat stage of the race. In usual circumstances the prospect of just 139 kilometres would be walk in the park. However after nearly three-weeks of racing, and with a number of teams still without a stage win, stage 18 was always destined to be tougher than expected.
After just 20 kilometres the first break formed with Manuele Boaro (Saxo Bank), Stef Clement (Rabobank), Pier Paolo De Negri (Farnese Vini) and Angelo Pagani (Colnago-CSF Inox) going clear. Their lead stretched to 3 minutes before Sky and Omega Quickstep began to muster their troops.
With an intermediate sprint at kilometre 84 and Cavendish keen to claim as many points as possible ahead of a mountain double header and time trial Sky stretched themselves to bring the break back.
And once the British sprinter achieved the first aim of the day Sky allowed another move to go clear.
Clement was present again, clearly hoping he could rescue Rabobank’s poor Giro single-handedly. On this occasion he was joined by Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team), Olivier Kaisen (Lotto Belisol Team) and Mickael Delage (FDJ-Big Mat).
Kaisen had more breakaway kilometres in his legs than any other rider in the race - 639 – with Keizer a close second at 612 and the foursome built up a lead approaching a minute with 46 kilometres remaining.
Sky reacted by putting the dependable Ian Stannard on the front, and the lone Sky rider kept the gap in check before a number of teams rolled up their sleeves and joined the pursuit.
Delage was the last man standing, and was briefly joined by Lars Bak, but the pair were never given much leeway, a gap of 11 seconds their biggest buffer.
Caught inside the final 4 kilometres it all came back together.