Mark Cavendish launched a long-range sprint from the wheel of lead-out man Geraint Thomas to win stage two of the Giro d’Italia in Herning, Denmark.
A crash in the final few hundred metres left a select group of sprinters to contest the finale and it was Cavendish who triumphed ahead of Orica-GreenEDGE’s Matt Goss and FDJ rider Geoffrey Soupe in the country where he claimed World Championship victory in 2011.
The Giro forms a key part of Cavendish’s preparations for the Tour de France and Olympic Games and, while the Manx Missile is likely to abandon the race before it reaches Milan, the 26-year-old will figure heavily throughout a sprinter-friendly first week which continues with a 190km stage Horsens on Monday before the race heads to Italy.
Alfredo Balloni (Farnese Vini- Selle Italia), Olivier Kaisen (Lotto-Belisol) and Miguel Rubiano (Androni) jumped from the front of the peloton after 15km to form the first breakaway of the 95th Giro d’Italia.
None of the trio fared particularly well in Saturday’s time trial, with Balloni the closest to winner Taylor Phinney, one minute and five seconds off the pace, and as a result they were allowed to gain an advantage of more than 13 minutes.
Balloni was first over the day’s sole climb, a category four ascent, to ride into the blue King of the Mountains jersey, while, back in the peloton, Team Sky took charge of the chase, with Ian Stannard doing the lion’s share of the work, to reel in the escapees with 40km remaining.
That prompted Lotto-Belisol’s Danish rider, Lars Bak, to attack and build a 45-seconds advantage, with Stannard, a key member of the Great Britain team that propelled Cavendish to the rainbow jersey in Copenhagen, still controlling the pace at the head of the peloton, with Sky’s train strung out behind the 24-year-old to protect Cavendish.
The pace increased significantly as the kilometres ticked down and Bak was caught with 15km to go, while the peloton then had a dress rehearsal for the finish, crossing the line for the first time before embarking on a 12.5km lap of Herning.
Race leader Phinney then faced a nervy chase after dropping his chain 8km from the finish but safely regained contact with the peloton to retain the maglia rosa while, at the head of the race, the sprinter’s teams continued to jostle for position with the finish line looming.
The final corner had been cause for some concern ahead of the race and Theo Bos overcooked the 90 degree bend and crashed after clipping the wheel of lead-out man Mark Renshaw to leave only a handful of sprinters to contest the finish.
And Thomas kept a cool head to guide Cavendish out of trouble after initially being boxed in before the world champion launched his sprint to beat former team-mate Goss and claim an eighth career Giro stage win.
Giro d’Italia stage two – result
1) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Team Sky 4:53:12 hours
2) Matt Goss (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – same time
3) Geoffrey Soupe (FRA) – FDJ-Big Mat
4) Tyler Farrar (USA) – Garmin-Barracuda
5) Roberto Ferrari (ITA) – Androni Giocattoli
6) Mark Renshaw (AUS) – Rabobank
7) Thor Hushovd (NOR) – BMC Racing
8) Daniele Bennati (ITA) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek
9) William Bonnet (FRA) – FDJ-Big Mat
10) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky
1) Taylor Phinney (USA) – BMC Racing Team – 10.26
2) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +9”
3) Alex Rasmussen (DEN) – Garmin-Barracuda +13”
4) Manuele Boaro (ITA) – Saxo Bank +15”
5) Erik Gustav Larsson (SWE) – Vacansoleil-DCM +22”
6) Ramunas Navardauskas (LTU) – Garmin-Barracuda
7) Brett Lancaster (AUS) – Orica-GreenEdge +23”
8) Marco Pinotti (ITA) – BMC Racing Team +24”
9) Jesse Sergent (NZL) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +26”
10) Nelson Oliveira (POR) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +27”