Mark Cavendish claimed his 100th professional win with victory on a rain-soaked stage 12 of the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
The Manx Missile outsprinted Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and Luka Mekgec (Argos-Shimano) to record his third stage win of this year’s race and return to the top of the points classification.
But any lingering hopes help by Team Sky leader, Bradley Wiggins, of winning the race were dealt a knockout blow. The Tour de France champion, who is suffering from a chest infection, lost three minutes and 17 seconds after being dropped on the descent of the day’s second climb, 40km from the finish.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) continues to lead the race, 41 seconds ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).
Cavendish, who also won stages one and six, paid tribute to his team-mates after adding a 100th victory to his palmares.
“I’m happy that I could do it here at the Giro d’Italia, but more than the fact I’ve won here, I’m proud of how we did it,” he said. “We came here with the intentions of trying to win every sprint. We haven’t just won every sprint, we’ve won it quite convincingly. We controlled the peloton from start to finish today, in quite horrid conditions.”
The 27-year-old continued: “They really rode with their heads, and also with their hearts, the whole team. They really did something special today, each and every one of them. So, that’s what has made me proud of this Giro more than the actual wins.”
The first half of the 2013 Giro has been dogged by poor weather but stage 12 saw the riders faced with rain so heavy the race organisers announced they would neutralise the finale, taking times at three kilometres to go, before the peloton had even rolled out of Longarone.
Five riders – Fabio Felline (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Marco Marcato and Maurits Lammertink (Vacansoleil-DCM), Maxim Belkov (Katusha) and Bert De Backer (Argos-Shimano) – formed the day’s break less than ten kilometres into the stage.
The group held an advantage of a little more than two minutes with 50km remaining, ahead of the the second of two short, sharp category four climbs and Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mate, Jérôme Pineau, led the chasing peloton down the subsequent descent.
It was there that Wiggins, who had been languishing at the back of the peloton for much of the stage, fell off the pace, struggling both with illness and the slick roads, and Christian Knees, Dario Cataldo, Danny Pate, Xabier Zandio, Kanstantsin Siutsou and Salvatore Puccio all dropped back to help the 33-year-old, leaving Rigoberto Uran, who is now third overall in the general classification, as Team Sky’s sole representative in the main group.
But with the peloton roaring along in anticipation of a bunch sprint, Wiggins failed to regain contact and saw his already slim hopes of adding a second Grand Tour to his palmares evaporate. Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford confirmed after the stage that the team will now ride in support of Uran.
“We are in a great position in the race,” said Brailsford. “We are still in a very good position on GC and I think we have got a very strong team and they are all very motivated and they will continue to ride for Rigoberto, so the team doesn’t lose its purpose.”
Cavendish, meanwhile, smelt blood and the breakaway saw its lead cut to 27 seconds going into the final 7.5km finishing circuit in Treviso, with Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Orica-GreenEDGE and Cannondale all working to reel in the escapees.
But the monsoon-like weather played into the leaders’ hands and the group continued to keep the peloton at bay, only succumbing inside the final 500m to setup a bunch sprint, leaving Cavendish to jump from the wheel of leadout man Gert Steegmans with 150m to go to claim his 13th Giro d’Italia stage win.
Cavendish added: “It was incredible. We left it until right at the end. The break had a minute with 10km to go. That’s hard to pull back on a circuit in the rain. Cannondale came to the front but it was more left to my men.
Young Julien Vermote pulled and pulled until his legs couldn’t come around anymore. Matteo Trentin normally would come to the front with about 1km to go, but with 2.5km to go he took over and just rode and rode.
“It wasn’t easy as we were close to not catching the break. Gert Steegmans could have gone and left me in ‘no man’s land,’ but he waited and waited. I was actually stressing a bit to be honest. But I’m so happy, my 100th win and what a way to do it with the guys. I’m so proud.”
Giro d’Italia 2013 – stage 12 – result
1) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep – 3:01:47 hours
2) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ – same time
3) Luka Mezgec (SLO) – Argos-Shimano
4) Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA) – Radioshack Leopard
5) Brett Lancaster (AUS) – Orica-GreenEdge
6) Manuel Belletti (ITA) – Ag2r La Mondiale
7) Roberto Ferrari (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
8) Sacha Modolo (ITA) – Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox
9) Ioannis Tamouridis (GRE) – Euskaltel-Euskadi
10) Fran Ventoso (SPA) – Movistar
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 46:28:14 hours
2) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +41″
3) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Team Sky +2’04”
4) Robert Gesink (NED) – Blanco Pro Cycling +2’12”
5) Michele Scarponi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +2’13”
6) Mauro Santambrogio (ITA) – Vini Fantini-Selle Italia +2’55”
7) Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL) – Lampre-Merida +3’35”
8) Benat Intxausti (SPA) – Movistar +4’05”
9) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +4’17”
10) Rafal Majka (POL) – Saxo-Tinkoff +4’21”