This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) won the opening stage and so took the leader's pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia in Naples, taking the win ahead of Elia Viviani (Cannondale) and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ). A very high pace and a late crash had split the field but he once again Cavendish proved he has the speed to win.
"The stage wasn't easy, there were a lot of corners and it was very hot for an Englishman like me. It was only 130km long and my team did a great job working for me," said Cavendish.
"Steegmans had a problem with his gears and so I had to close a ten-metre gap with just 500m to go. I had to go in the red to win the sprint."
Cannondale had moved up to lead the field in the final kilometers, and its burning pace lined-out the field. Only about a dozen riders were in the lead group at the finale after the crash took out Mattia Gavazzi (Androni Giocattoli) and Davide Apollonio (Ag2r-La Mondiale). Orica-GreenEdge drove the way in the final kilometre, pulling for Matthew Goss but he was unable to find the speed to win. Viviani moved past him in sight of the line but Cavendish powered his way up on the right hand side of the road to snatch the win. It was his 11th Giro victory. French national champion Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) was third.
How it unfolded
The Giro d'Italia started promptly in Naples under brilliant sunny skies.
The day's break started early, as soon as the flag was dropped, with Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R), Marco Canola (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox), Cameron Wurf (Cannondale), Ricardo Mestre (Euskaltel), Brian Bulgac (Lotto Belisol), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM) quickly going clear.
They never got much more than two minutes though and never appeared to work well together. The two main rival teams of the day gave notice of their intentions early in the day as Omega Pharma-QuickStep for sprinter Mark Cavendish, and Argos-Shimano for John Degenkolb, led the chase.
The Naples streets took their tribute as well. FDJ's Laurent Pichon was the first to crash, and subsequently paid several visits to the race doctor. Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Nissan) had a nasty looking wound on his left thigh, visible through his ripped shorts. Numerous other riders had to pull over with punctures.
Early on, there were two category 4 climbs in Via Francisco Petrarca. Bonnafond tried both times to take the points, but Visconti and Wurf took the honours.
Wurf eventually took off alone from the group and quickly built up a lone lead of some two minutes, as the chasers faded back towards the peloton. With 71.5km to go, they were caught, with Wurf 1:55 ahead.
The day's course consisted of four laps of an opening circuit, which included the climb, and then eight laps of a flat closing circuit. By the finishing circuit, Team Sky moved up near the front to protect Bradley Wiggins, although Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Argos-Shimano continued to head things up, and kept the gap under two minutes, bringing it down slowly but surely.
With 40km still to go, the gap had dropped to under a minute. One lap later, it was down to 37 seconds, and BMC was showing up near the front. Wurf hung on to take the day's only intermediate sprint with 24km to go. The Australian fought long and hard but with 19km to go, it was over and he was caught by the Omega Pharma-QuickStep-led field.
The massed field flew under the finish banner for the last lap, with Cannondale, Orica-GreenEdge, Argos-Shimano and Omega Pharma-QuickStep all leading their own trains at high speed.
Cannondale moved to the lead and picked up the pace yet again and the field became a long string. Cannondale's work split the field and the crash caused a gap, with 12 or so riders at the front, including Cavendish and Goss. The Cannondale team faded as they crossed under the flamme rouge, with Orica-GreenEdge leading the sprint. Goss had a great lead out and started his sprint with 200 metres to go. But Cavendish was also moving up and came up on the right side with speed, to grab the win and the first pink jersey at literally the last moment.