Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford paid tribute to Mark Cavendish after the world champion missed out on winning the Giro d’Italia’s red jersey by a single point.
Cavendish had led the points competition since stage 11 and held a 29 point lead over Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) going into the final stage mountain stages on Friday and Saturday – but Rodriguez’s third and fourth place finishes meant the Spaniard leapfrogged the world road race champion.
Cavendish won three stages in Italy but the Manx Missile’s campaign was almost derailed early in the race when he suffered severe road rash after a crash on stage three, while he also missed out on the chance of victory on stage nine after being held up by another crash.
“[The crash] knocked him for six, and without that he would have won the points jersey,” said Brailsford. “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 27-year-old Cavendish was bidding to become only the sixth rider in history to win the points jerseys at all three Grand Tours, with the Giro’s the hardest to win by virtue of points being awarded equally on both flat and mountain stages. In the past ten editions of the race the jersey has been won by a sprinter only four times, and on six occasions by overall contenders.
Cavendish has previously abandoned the Giro in 2009 and 2011 to target the Tour de France but the sprinter completed this year’s race not only with a view to winning the red jersey, but also to improve his climbing ahead of a busy summer.
And Brailsford believes Cavendish’s preparations are on track, with the former HTC-Highroad rider to defend his green jersey at the Tour and ride for a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
“The way he’s been climbing these last few days, he’s got stronger and stronger and he’s in super shape,” said Brailsford. “All in all, it’s looking great for the summer.”
Team Sky did, however, leave the Giro with a jersey after Rigoberto Uran won the best young rider classification, finishing seventh overall, five minutes and 57 seconds behind Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda).
Uran’s Colombian compatriot and Sky team-mate Sergio Henao also finished in the top ten, ninth overall in his first Grand Tour, while Geraint Thomas bookended the race with second place finishes in the opening time trial in Denmark and final test in Milan.
And directeur sportif Steven de Jongh hailed the Giro a success after three weeks of racing: “I’m really happy with our results in this race and it’s nice to finish on a high,” he said.
“G produced a great performance in the time trial which he should be really happy with after three weeks of racing. [Stage winner Marco] Pinotti was the strongest man on the day so hats off to him.
“Sergio also put up a great fight today. He was really happy to move up two places on the GC and ninth place overall is an amazing result for his first Grand Tour appearance.
“Ryder Hesjedal is a deserved winner, for sure. His attack at the end of stage 19 put 23 seconds into Rodriguez and that’s ultimately where the race was won.”