Britain’s Mark Cavendish pulled off a faultless victory in the Giro d’Italia, bringing his total of stage wins in bunch sprints in this year’s race to a total of two out of a possible two and his collection of Giro stage victories to a career total of 12.
If Saturday’s win was a technical masterpiece - bereft of his leadout man, Geert Steegmans, to guide him in the final metres after the Belgian had a mechanical problem, Cavendish swung wide to overtake his rivals at almost the last possible moment - this was a clinical exercise that left nothing to chance.
After Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad had kept the race under control as it sped up Italy’s eastern coastline, the Briton moved to the fore in the final kilometre - although with Steegmans, who measures nearly two metres, ahead of him, he was barely visible behind.
Then with 200 metres to go, the Belgian swung across and in the space of a dozen pedal strokes, Cavendish was blasting over the finish line for the 38th Grand Tour stage win of his career.
“There have been two bunch sprints here and I’ve won both, so I’m happy,” Cavendish stated afterwards. “It all went exactly to plan.”
Whilst there have been questions about the degree of team support Cavendish has received in the final kilometres of some races - to the point where Omega Pharma even attempted to sign his old rival, Alessandro Petacchi, in the week before the Giro, to act as an extra lead-out man - the huge hug Cavendish gave both Steegmans and his other team-mates after this victory showed how much he appreciated their support.
“Everything went perfectly and I can only thank my team for doing a job 100 percent to perfection,” Cavendish said - and if his victory celebrations for such an impressive win seemed curiously muted, the race number 108 he held up on the podium made it clear why.
Exactly two years ago, Belgium’s Wouter Weylandt was killed on the Giro in a downhill crash - and 108 was his race number - and as Cavendish said afterwards, “it was a hard day for all of us. Wouter was friends with some of the riders here and there’s not a day goes by we don’t remember him.”
The crashes were numerous on stage six but fortunately far less dangerous than two years ago, with the most spectacular coming 22 kilometres from the finish when almost the entire peloton was blocked behind a mass pile-up.
With riders picking their way through the crash in dribs and drabs, Bradley Wiggins was amongst those caught out behind, and by the time he managed to start racing again, he had lost over a minute. A furious chase to regain contact with the peloton then took place, with four Sky riders guiding Wiggins, although with the main bunch reaching an unspoken agreement to wait until all the riders had bridged up again, the Briton was able to catch up relatively quickly.
Wiggins then stayed close to the front and even led the pack in the final kilometre in order to avoid further crashes, and the seventh’s stage, with 4,500 metres of climbing in the Abruzze mountains, will see the Briton and the other favourites come to the fore again.
Classification from Giro d'Italia after Stage 6...
1. Luca Paolini (Italy / Katusha) 23:52:42" 2. Rigoberto Uran (Colombia / Team Sky) +17" 3. Benat Intxausti (Spain / Movistar) +26" 4. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy / Astana) +31" 5. Ryder Hesjedal (Canada / Garmin) +34" 6. Bradley Wiggins (Britain / Team Sky) 7. Giampaolo Caruso (Italy / Katusha) +36" 8. Sergio Henao (Colombia / Team Sky) +37" 9. Mauro Santambrogio (Italy / Vini Fantini) +39" 10. Cadel Evans (Australia / BMC Racing) +42"