This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) claimed his fifth stage win of this year’s Giro d’Italia, winning the final stage into Brescia in thrilling fashion. The win was more than enough to seal his red jersey ambitions while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finished safely in the bunch to crown his first overall title in his home Grand Tour.
Cavendish’s sprint saw him finish clear of Sacha Modolo (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale Pro Cycling) but the Manxman was forced to fight for his win after confusion reigned over the second intermediate sprint.
Coming into the stage Cavendish sat 11 points adrift of Nibali in the points classification and the British star snaffled up eight points at the first sprint of the day to reduce the deficit to just three points. With Nibali content to lose the jersey the first half of the stage became a procession.
For much of this year’s race foul weather has played a greater roll than many of the contenders or the parcours but the riders were rewarded with sunshine and blue skies at the start. Nibali, in all pink, with his teammates' Specialized bikes all wrapped with matching pink bar tape – a modest but stylish touch – was cheered to the rafters by the local tifosi as the bunch set out for the final 197 kilometres of this year’s race.
The procession continued virtually all the way until Brescia. Cavendish ticked off the first item on his shopping list with the first intermediate sprint, and Astana controlled a gentle pace as the race flirted with the outskirts of the city.
There was time for the peloton to bid farewell to Stefano Garzelli, winner of this race in 2000, and a seven-time stage winner, with the veteran allowed to ride free from the peloton onto the finishing circuit and soak up the cheers from the crowds in what is surely his last Giro
The 4.6 kilometre circuit, which the peloton would tackle seven times, was anything but a relaxing finale after three weeks of brutal racing. Replete with tight, twisting roads plus several 90 degree corners - it was nip and tuck as the peloton snaked through the opening sectors.
Giairo Ermeti (Androni Giocattoli) was the first rider to attack, but suddenly the cool, collected manner of QuickStep’s riding seemed to fade. The second intermediate sprint of the day was supposed to be in three laps' time but Cavendish was taking no chances, and made contact with Ermeti before then crossing the line first.
No confirmation followed, so while Ermeti had again jumped ahead in a solo attack, Omega Pharma-QuickStep reeled him in before the completion of the next lap and Cavendish was forced to once again make the effort. The eight points on offer would have taken him into the lead in the points competition but when it was finally confirmed that the next lap would settle the intermediate, Cavendish was forced, for a third time, to open up another sprint. Crossing the line first once more, Cavendish sealed the points classification and now turned his attention to winning the stage.
If Cavendish was beatable, surely it was now, and Viviani and his Cannondale comrades sensed blood when the 2011 World Champion was left with just two teammates inside the final two kilometres.
But Cavendish has proved on so many occasions that his sprinting isn’t just about speed. He and his final lead-out man stayed focused when Cannondale swarmed the front and when Modolo kicked for the line too soon Cavendish held back knowing that the headwind would see his Italian rider falter.
And so it proved, with Cavendish taking his fifth stage of this year’s race and completing a grand slam of Grand Tour points jerseys.
Nibali crossed the line a few seconds later in the safety of the main field to win his maiden Giro d’Italia crown and close out what has been a dominant stage racing performance.