Team Columbia-Highroad undercut everyone to win Stage 1 of the 2009 Giro d'Italia Saturday, a 20.5km team time trial in Lido di Venezia near Venice.
Garmin-Slipstream finished second, just six seconds back. Lance Armstrong's Team Astana finished 13 seconds behind Columbia.
"I live in Italy so this jersey has particular significance. To win the stage all the riders have to be at 100 percent. So this is a team victory," said Cavendish. "If I win on Sunday, as I hope, it will be different. The team will work or me. Today we had to wait until the last moment, until Astana finished."
Armstrong, racing for the first time since dislocating his shoulder in a fall in March and building up to an assault on an eighth Tour de France title, was happy with his third place.
"The guys were really strong but well done Columbia and Cavendish, they had a great race," said the American.
Garmin had been favourites after winning last year's opener in Sicily but Cavendish and company had their reward as they went for the jugular.
Ivan Basso's Liquigas had been expected to give everyone a run for their money but came in 40sec behind Columbia while compatriot Damiano Cunego's Lampre team were 2sec further back.
On the plus side for Italian fans, Danilo Di Luca (LPR), who won the Giro in 2007, saw his team come in fourth 22sec off the winning time.
Cavendish gave an early statement of intent that he intends at least to emulate last year's exploits when the racer from the Isle of Man won two Giro stages before bagging four in the Tour de France.
Italy certainly suits him as he won the Milan-San Remo in March.
Basso was sanguine about the day's proceedings.
"We turned in a good time. Columbia and Garmin had a team made for this time trial whereas ours was constructed around a three-week race," insisted the 2006 Giro champion and favourite to repeat that showing.
Sunday's 156km second stage will be a boon for the sprinters along the road from Jesolo to Trieste.
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar