Giro d'Italia: Mark Cavendish win stage 12 but Bradley Wiggins' hopes appear over
Vincenzo Nibali retains the pink jersey
The small Italian town of Treviso saw Mark Cavendish claim the 100th victory of his professional career today, a total within reach of just a handful of the very greatest riders - and which came on the same day as Sir Bradley Wiggins chances of taking Britain’s first Giro d’Italia definitively dissolved in a torrential rainstorm.
The statistics of Cavendish's 'century' of victories includes three Giro stage wins in this year alone - including all of the bunch sprints in the race so far - and 13 career victories in Italy's premier stage race, 23 Tour stages and a World Championships. For any rider in an entire career - and in a sport where most riders retire in their mid-30s, Cavendish has yet to reach his half way mark - this would be a prodigious achievement, let alone one who was told by his first team doctor he would never make it as a pro because he did not 'hit the numbers' physiologically speaking.
For a rider who always makes a point of praising his team-mates to the roof-tops, Cavendish did not lose the opportunity to thank them again. But this was no mere spiel, given Omega Pharma Quick Step had had to work their fingers to the bone to pull back an exceptionally determined five man breakaway in a torrential rainstorm, in weather conditions so difficult in fact that they were only able to catch them with 600 metres to go. Then Cavendish lunged fowards, and his 39th Grand Tour stage win was in the bag.
"Normally it wouldn't mean anything but the 100th win is quite special," he said afterwards.
"I was looking forward to it, and I was happy to do it at the Giro d'Italia. I was happy with how we did it too, the guys did it by taking control on a horrid stage.
"More than the fact that I've won, I'm more proud of how we did it. we've coming under a lot of criticism this year as a team in the sprints and we came here with intentions of winning every sprint.
"We haven't just won every sprint, we've done it quite convincingly. We controlled the peloton from start to finish. The guys just rode out of their skins. They rode with their heads but also with their hearts" - something equally true, in fact, of Cavendish himself, ever since he turned pro in 2007.
If Cavendish's triumph represents a major landmark for British cycling, Wiggins' continuing series of setbacks left him out of the back of the pack, out of the battle for the overall classification and with his continuing participation in the race itself in doubt.
Some 40 kilometres from the finish, a sudden increase in speed and a slight crosswind was all it took for the ailing Briton to find himself on the wrong side of a split in the bunch. An hour later, Wiggins crossed the line more than three minutes down. Already with a two minute disadvantage on leader Vincenzo Nibali, the 2012 Tour winner has slumped to 13th overall.
Wiggins started to get sick three or four days ago, Team Sky's Sir Dave Brailsford explained, before underlining the seriousness of that illness by adding that it had been "a long time since I saw Brad got dropped on a flat stage."
"He's got a chest infection and a severe head cold and that caught up with him today."
As for his possibility of continuing and supporting team-mate Rigoberto Uran, lying third overall, Brailsford said, "if he's over the worst and getting better then he'll carry on. [But] if he's getting worse then it'll be up to the medics to make the call that's best for him."
Wiggins decision on whether to continue will come on an exceptionally hard day for any racer, too - given that on Friday the Giro faces its longest stage, a 254 kilometre haul across the plains of northern Italy.
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