Mark Cavendish's bid to become the sixth rider in cycling history to take the points jersey in all three Grand Tours fell short almost at the final fence yesterday when overall race contender Joaquim Rodriguez deprived the Briton of victory in the Giro d'Italia classification by just one point.
It says much for Cavendish, the winner of the points competition in the Tour in 2011 and the Vuelta in 2010, that he came so close, given that victory in the Giro points competition is far harder for a sprinter than in other Grand Tours. Points are weighted equally on flat and mountain stages; in the last 10 years it has been taken four times by sprinters and six by overall contenders.
However, Cavendish's three stage wins and a second place last week, as well as a determination to make it through to the Giro's finish for the first time since 2008 – rather than make a planned abandon as in 2009 and 2011 – all helped reinforce the Sky rider's overall hold on the points jersey.
"I'm going to fight for this all the way to Milan," Cavendish said on Thursday. He then delivered as he battled through the Giro's two toughest mountain stages, finishing 159th on Friday and 129th on Saturday, but his points jersey bid fell foul of the struggle between the overall contenders.
With a 29-point advantage on Rodriguez on Friday morning, Cavendish could only hope that the Spaniard would not finish in the top stage rankings on the subsequent mountain stages. Unfortunately for the Manxman, that was exactly what happened, Rodriguez's third place on Friday's Dolomites stage and fourth on Saturday pushing him one point ahead of the Briton, and depriving Cavendish of a triumph by the slenderest of margins.
Overall the race was won by Canada's Ryder Hesjedal, wrenching the leader's pink jersey from Rodriguez on yesterday's time trial. Sky still had a lot to celebrate, with Cavendish's string of stage wins and lengthy spell in the red jersey followed up by Colombian Rigoberto Uran's best young rider's jersey for seventh overall – the first time that the British team has netted a final classification award in a Grand Tour.
As team principal Dave Brailsford pointed out, Cavendish's crash and subsequent injuries when sprinting for victory on stage three – caused by blatantly dangerous riding by Italian Roberto Ferrari – "knocked him for six, and without that he would have won the points jersey".
Brailsford added: "One of the remarkable things about Mark is that he didn't mention the pain, he just got on with it. You could see how much it hurt and he showed some real guts fighting his way through so hard, like on the day he finished 40 seconds inside the time cut – that took real courage.
"The way he's been climbing these last few days, he's got stronger and stronger and he's in super shape. All in all, it's looking great for the summer."