Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) claimed his third victory of the 2012 Giro d’Italia with a lightning-fast sprint finish on stage 13 to extend his lead at the top of the points classification.
Cavendish lost contact with his Sky team-mates with less than one kilometre to go but the Manx Missile latched onto the wheel of Garmin-Barracuda’s Robbie Hunter.
The 26-year-old bided his time from there in what was a scrappy run-in to the line and, after initially being boxed in, spotted a gap on the left before accelerating away from his rivals to win by a bike length ahead of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and former leadout man Mark Renshaw (Rabobank).
Cavendish now leads Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) by 31 points in the red jersey classification, while Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) finished safely in the bunch to defend his overall lead.
It took just 1.5km for the break to form and it was two riders who have been very active in escaping so far in this year’s race – Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Francesco Failli (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) – who forged clear.
The 121km stage went uphill from the first kilometre, with 11km of gentle climbing before the category four ascent of Montezemolo, the only categorised climb of the day, before the rest of the stage unravelled on gently rolling roads to present the sprinters with their penultimate opportunity to claim a victory in this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Keizer and Failli were allowed to ride out to an advantage of approaching five minutes before the peloton began the chase, with Team Sky FDJ-BigMat, Rabobank, Garmin-Barracuda and Orica-GreenEDGE all sending men to the front at some point to reign in the escapees with 20km remaining.
Three riders attacked on the final short rise with six kilometres to go and opened up a small gap on the peloton but the trio’s stint at the front of the race didn’t last long.
Bunch sprints in this year’s edition of the Giro have been littered with crashes, thanks in part to technical finishes, but the final few kilometres in Cervere were dead straight and looked set for a super-fast run-in to the line.
Cavendish was in the perfect position as the peloton steamed under the flamme rouge, sat behind three Sky team-mates, but the train disintegrated as Pete Kennaugh swung off the front.
Cavendish refused to panic and found Hunter’s wheel as stage three winner Goss opened up the sprint and, after briefly easing off the gas to avoid a touch of wheels, the world champion launched his sprint and claim his ninth career victory at the Giro d’Italia.
Giro d’Italia stage 13 – result
1) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Team Sky – 3:02:07 hours
2) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha – same time
3) Mark Renshaw (AUS) – Rabobank
4) Sacha Modolo (ITA) – Colnago-CSF Inox
5) Elia Favilli (ITA) – Farnese Vini-Selle Italia
6) Matt Goss (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
7) Arnaud Demare (FRA) – FDJ-Big Mat
8) Lucas Sebastian Haedo (ARG) – SaxoBank
9) Sonny Colbrelli (ITA) – Colnago-CSF Inox
10) Manuel Belletti (ITA) – Ag2r La Mondiale
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha 51:19:08 hours
2) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Garmin-Barracuda +17″
3) Sandy Casar (FRA) – FDJ-Big Mat +26″
4) Paolo Tiralongo (ITA) – Astana +32″
5) Ivan Santaromita (ITA) – BMC Racing +49″
6) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Astana +52″
7) Benat Intxausti (SPA) – Movistar – same time
8) Ivan Basso (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale +57″
9) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale +1’02”
10) Dario Cataldo (ITA) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +1’03”