NAPLES, Italy, May 04, 2013 (AFP) – British sprint king Mark Cavendish won a chaotic opening stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday to pull on the race leader’s pink jersey for the third time in his career.
The Isle of Man rider, winning his 11th stage in the epic Italian race, dominated a small but hectic group sprint to leave Elia Viviani of the Cannondale team in second place after nearly three hours of frantic racing around Naples.
Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni was third while Australian Matthew Goss finished fifth after running out of steam inside the final 200 metres of the 130-kilometre race opener.
“I came here to win sprints and I’ve started the race the way I wanted to,” said Cavendish, who appeared on the podium with his baby daughter Delilah.
Cavendish admitted, however, his bid almost came unstuck when lead-out man Gert Steegmans suffered a late mechanical problem.
“It was not easy with all the corners but the team did incredible to stay at the front.
“We didn’t get it quite right at the end and Gert had a mechanical in the final kilo which we need to look at.”
Cavendish, winning his first Grand Tour stage for his new team Omega-Pharma and his 102nd professional victory, will now wear the pink jersey into Sunday’s second stage — a team time trial over 17.4km on the island of Ischia.
Despite his team not being built for such an exercise, Cavendish added: “Tomorrow we’ll go out to try and protect the lead and respect the jersey.”
Beginning on the Naples seafront in warm conditions, the opening stage featured two circuits – one 16.4km long with a short climb to be raced four times and a second, 8km circuit to be raced eight times.
With only 130km of racing it promised to be fast and after less than 15 minutes a small group of riders broke off the front to build a near two-minute lead on the peloton.
Eventually, Australian Cameron Wurf became the sole survivor from the leading pack, his efforts allowing the rest of his Cannondale team to forego participating in the chase.
As the teams with sprinters moved to the front of the pack to up the pace in the closing 20km, Wurf’s lead evaporated and he was caught with just over 12km remaining.
Cannondale, however, had not had their final word.
Three of the lime-green clad riders, including Viviani, hit the front and rode a frantic pace which strung the group out on the tight, twisting turns on the circuit.
A number of riders crashed, and Cannondale’s efforts left a dozen or so riders on their own on the 1km-long home straight.
Goss was well-positioned on the wheel of a teammate, but despite the Green-Edge sprinter grinding away in the final 200m Cavendish came the outside, where he said there was “less crosswinds”, to leave Viviani banging on his handlebars in frustration at the finish.
A former track rider like Cavendish, Viviani admitted: “This year I’ve focused totally on the road but I’ve still to win a race.
“I’m disappointed not to have won, especially as we’d planned to make sure I wouldn’t get boxed in and we executed that plan well.
“Cavendish won, but no one is unbeatable.”
Goss, commenting later on his Twitter account, said: “Boys did a great job today perfect lead-out, went at 225 (metres) unfortunately the head wind was too strong and I run out of legs about 35m to go.”
Cavendish, competing in his fifth Giro d’Italia, wore the race leader’s jersey for two days in 2009 and for one day in 2011.