Mark Cavendish stormed to a dominant victory on stage six of Tirreno-Adriatico as Omega Pharma-Quickstep took full control in the final kilometres.
With a big crash bringing down several Lotto-Belisol riders behind them and Marcel Kittel already dropped from the leading group, Cavendish and his team-mates found themselves with a huge gap at the front on the final straight.
And with such an advantage there was only going to be one winner, as they gave Cavendish a long lead-out before the Manxman peeled off from the wheel of Alessandro Petacchi to lead home and Omega Pharma-Quickstep one-two.
Such was their speed – and the impact of the crash – Petacchi even had time to celebrate before crossing in second, while Mark Renshaw also finished in the top ten.
It was some turnaround for Cavendish, after he was the last rider to finish stage five after the punishing climb of Mont di Guardiagrele and he was delighted with his comeback.
“I’m incredibly happy,” he said post-race. “Yesterday was the worst I’ve felt on the bike for a long time.
“But from the beginning today I felt really good. The team stayed with me and we had one goal today which was to win the sprint.
“It would have been nice to have raced against Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel but we’ll still celebrate tonight.”
A strong chasing group went clear early on, with Pete Kennaugh (Team Sky), Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp), Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) and Cesare Benedetti (Team NetApp-Endura) going clear.
Their lead stretched to more than five minutes at its maximum, with the powerful engines of Bauer and Kennaugh coming into their own but the pace in the peloton kept them at close quarters.
With Cannondale putting the hurt on at the front, Kittel found himself spat out of the back though he was quickly led back in by his team-mates.
The team in green remained undeterred however, setting a furious pace which caused another split – Giant-Shimano
With the average speed of the stage more than 45km/h, Cannondale’s efforts also meant the riders were up front were given little chance to succeed, though they stayed out until the final lap of the finishing circuit.
Giant-Shimano, with the help of Sam Bennett’s Team NetApp-Endura, brought the gap between the two groups down to 20 seconds at one point but their efforts were to prove in vain.
Philippe Gilbert attacked the leading group, but as the sprint trains took over he was soon reeled in with Omega Pharma-Quickstep and Lotto-Belisol hitting the front.
Tony Martin once again put in a huge shift for the former, ensuring they were at the front in the final kilometres and it proved crucial as several Lotto-Belisol riders hit the deck on the final corner with 1.3km to go.
Michal Kwiatkowski drilled hard at the front as a gap appeared between Omega Pharma-Quickstep and their rivals.
Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) remained in contention and Greipel managed to find the back wheel but the pace at the front was simply too much for anyone to keep pace.
Renshaw took over at the front and peeled off to leave Petacchi and Cavendish with a huge gap, but the two sprinting greats remained fully focussed on the task in hand as Cavendish came round to take the win.
Tirreno-Adriatico: stage six – result
1) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 4.16.15hrs
2) Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – ST
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale
4) Arnaud Demare (FRA) – FDJ.fr
5) Tony Hurel (FRA) – Europcar
6) Robert Wagner (GER) – Belkin
7) Kristian Sbaragli (ITA) – MTN-Qhubeka
8) Bartosz Huzarski (POL) – Team NetApp-Endura
9) Mark Renshaw (AUS) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
10) Davide Appollonio (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
1) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 25.17.51hrs
2) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +2.08
3) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Tinkoff-Saxo +2.15
4) Julian Arredondo (COL) – Trek Factory Racing +2.39
5) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +2.40
6) Mikel Nieve (ESP) – Team Sky +2.50
7) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha +2.51
8) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +2.56
9) Giampaolo Caruso (ITA) – Katusha +2.58
10) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Trek Factory Racing +3.06