This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Having claimed the 100th win of his career on Thursday, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) started on the path towards his next century of victories when he led the bunch home in Cherasco, narrowly holding off Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Leopard) and Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) in a frantic finish at the end of the Giro’s longest stage.
After the race bumped over a small hill with 6km remaining, Cavendish was close to the front of the bunch but found he had no team-mates to support him as they had spent most of the second half of the stage reeling in a seven-rider break that had led by more than 13 minutes. Sensing Cavendish was isolated, Cannondale went to the front to chase down lone breakaway Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and set up Elia Viviani for the sprint.
With Orica-GreenEdge also prominent as they worked for Brett Lancaster, Cavendish was seven riders back when Cannondale began to wind the sprint up for Viviani from 500m out. For a moment, it looked like the Briton was going to be boxed in, but seeing a gap to his right he shot through it with 350 metres still to the line. In typical fashion, he opened up a gap of half a dozen metres on the riders behind him, but had to battle hard to hold on as Nizzolo came through quickly on his left, but just fractionally too late to claim his first grand tour stage win.
Cavendish, who now has 40 grand tour stage wins to his credit, admitted he hadn’t wanted to ride for the win today, given the length of the stage and his team’s efforts yesterday. “I’m so, so tired. I don’t know how I’m going to recover before the mountains tomorrow,” he said. “A sprint like that takes so much effort out of you. I was right on the limit, I had to go from 350 metres out and I’m on my knees now. The guys saved me on the climbs today and I feel like this is now building into the teams I had of old. The guys just ride and ride and ride. They’re incredible.”
There was no change in the overall standings. Race leader Vincenzo Nibali said he had enjoyed the fact that the weather was much better and looked ominously strong on that final little rise as he chased down a cheeky attack by eighth-placed Beñat Intxausti.
How it unfolded
With some very serious climbing ahead this weekend, there was a good chance a break might be able to stay away on this stage. It started to form 30km in when Danilo Hondo (RadioShack Leopard), Giairo Ermeti (Androni Giocattoli) and Rafael Andriato (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) went clear. This trio were soon joined by Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Tobias Ludvigsson (Argos-Shimano) and Lars Ytting Bak (Lotto-Belisol). Bardiani’s Nicola Boem bridged across on his own, making seven up front.
After 90km their lead had gone out to more than 13 minutes. The sprinters’ teams then moved into the vanguard of the peloton, steadily eating away at that deficit. The seven leaders were less than a minute clear when they reached the only categorised climb of the day, the Tre Cuni, with 37km remaining, and it was here that the three strongest riders in the break – Boem, Bak and Lastras – forged clear. Their lead was just 18 seconds at the top of the climb, but Omega were content to let that gap edge out again slightly.
On the next rise, 15km from home, Boem went for a solo break, but couldn’t sustain his pace and fell back as Lastras ploughed on. Behind these three, there was a flurry of attacks off the front of the peloton, where Astana took control as Omega Pharma finally began to wilt. A gaggle of riders got across to Lastras, including Vini Fantini pair Matteo Rabottini and Oscar Gatto, Euskaltel’s Jorge Azanza, Bardiani’s Francesco Bongiorno, Movistar’s José Herrada and Katusha’s Caruso.
On the final little climb, with 8km to go, the front group split as its members began to attack each other. It was Caruso who finally got clear just before cresting the climb with 6km remaining. For a couple of kilometres it looked as if the Italian might benefit from some dallying at the front of the peloton, until Cannondale decided it was up to then to start the chase in Omega Pharma’s absence. The risk was always that Cavendish would benefit, but they had to take it. Once again, though, the Briton had just a little bit too much speed and sprinting nous for his rivals.