Cavendish was a dominant winner in the stage 10 sprint in Teramo, seeing off Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) in the final 150 metres to take his first stage win of a Giro with relatively restricted opportunities for the sprinters. His win was all the more impressive for his improvisation in the final two kilometres, as he abandoned his usual HTC-Highroad lead-out to take advantage of Alessandro Petacchi's train.
The winner's press conference, however, was dominated by the fall-out from allegations that Cavendish had held on to passing cars on Sunday's stage to Etna as he battled to stay inside the time limit. Ironically, the accuser-in-chief was Ventoso, and Cavendish was keen to refute the Spaniard's claims.
"I challenge Ventoso to spend one day in the back group with me," Cavendish said. "He will see then that if I stop to piss, if I stop to change my wheel, if I crash - I have commissaire with me every time, I have a television camera with me every time, I have a f***ing ice cream truck with me the whole time."
Never a man shy of giving as good as he gets, be it in the finishing straight or in his exchanges with the press, Cavendish levelled a few veiled accusations of his own at Ventoso for good measure.
"I could easily make some accusations against Ventoso for cheating if wanted to, but I'm not going to," Cavendish said enigmatically.
Cavendish is no stranger to controversy, of course, and there was more than a flicker of irritation in his expression when one brave soul reminded him of some of his past indiscretions, including the dangerous finishing straight crash in last year's Tour of Switzerland. Denying that he was at fault there, Cavendish maintained that the polemics that surround him are simply a consequence of his success.
"All my career I've had accusations against me," he said. "It's part and parcel of being at the top. Everybody says 'Ignore it, it's just jealousy.' Somebody who's at the top, people are going to pull them down."
Winning without a team?
After Petacchi's startling efforts in week one, Cavendish returned to his place at the top of the sprinting pyramid with a fine stage victory in Teramo. So often the beneficiary of an armchair ride to the finish from his HTC-Highroad team, Cavendish's win on Tuesday was at least in part to his tactical nous in the frenetic run-in to the line.
"There was just Rasmussen, Renshaw and myself left with 2km to go, which was a bit far, which meant I had to take Petacchi's wheel," Cavendish said. "I fought for Petacchi's wheel and as soon as I was on Petacchi's wheel with 1500 metres to go, I knew I was in the best position.
"I just had to wait for Petacchi to go and come around him. He went with 250 to go and I went with 150 to go."
In spite of his delight at snaring a stage victory in this most mountainous of Giri, the relative weakness of Cavendish's team in respect to two seasons ago will surely be a concern. While at the business end of the sprint, he can still rely on Mark Renshaw's pitch-perfect lead-outs, not all of the wagons of his train are running as smoothly as in his golden year of 2009.
"It's not the same team as in the past," Cavendish said. "In terms of heart and commitment, for sure it's the same team. In terms of ability, of the strength and experience of the team, it's not the same."
With Cavendish's contract at HTC-Highroad set to expire at the end of the season, his plans for 2012 are sure to be the subject of intense scrutiny in the coming months. While pleased with the endeavour of his companions, Cavendish did not back away from admitting that he would benefit from greater strength in depth.
"I think we took it for granted when I was winning every sprint I entered," he said. "Without a team I can win a lot of races, but with a team I can win every race.
"With the team we used to have we won everything. Now we win but not the same like we did. But that's not because of a lack of commitment."
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.