When the world champion Mark Cavendish delivered a knockout bunch sprint to claim his 10th Giro d'Italia stage of his career and 33rd Grand Tour win yesterday it was very much business as usual – however, the Manxman then created a far greater surprise by announcing he would not be making a widely expected exit.
Cavendish quit the Giro in 2009 after stage 13 and again after stage 12 in 2011, on both occasions so he could avoid the toughest mountain stages and rest up before the Tour de France.
But when asked by Italian television if he would be staying in this Giro into the third week, Cavendish confirmed he would remain, perhaps even as far as the finish at Milan on 27 May.
One possible reason for Cavendish's decision to continue is that he is leading the points competition: if he does make it to Milan on top of that classification, he will have taken the points jersey in all three major Tours.
There is also the question of the Olympic road race, which features repeated assaults of a short but tough mid-race ascent at Box Hill in Surrey: Cavendish has been working on improving his climbing for the last three years, and racing through the Alps and Dolomites in the third week of the Giro could well form part of that process.
If the Sky rider tore up the script after the stage, the victory in itself was textbook Cavendish, with a three-man lead-out from Sky into the final, flat, straight kilometre at Cervere in Piedmont and Britons Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas forming a key part of the process.
The Briton was all but blocked in the finale on the left-hand side with about 150 metres to go. But showing his usual technical ability and strength, he first managed to brake sharply enough to avoid a crash (which would have been his third in this year's accident-torn Giro) and then as Australian rival Matt Goss went right, Cavendish powered away to claim his third victory of this year's Giro.
"It wasn't perfect, but Goss opened a gap so I could get through and go for it," Cavendish said, before discussing his lack of a definitively designated team-mate as a key wingman – the "leadout" man – to guide him in the final metres – which would perhaps have made a difference in those tricky last 150m. "At the moment I've had a different leadout man in each race I've been in, but I've got the best team-mates in the world. The most you can ask from a team-mate is commitment, and these guys are 100 per cent committed."Reuse content