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Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) overcame a fractured lead-out on Saturday to win stage 1 of the 2013 Giro d’Italia, a 130km jaunt around Naples.
His road to victory proved to be a hard one, a long charge from behind to deny Elia Viviani (Cannondale) and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) at the line.
Asked whether he felt relief or joy at the win, a breathless Cavendish replied: “A bit of both, really. It was a difficult, difficult stage for me.
“We had really, really good support from the team. Once again, Gert [Steegmans] had a mechanical problem, so I had to close a gap. That’s the third time that’s happened. I was looking on the left, and [Danilo] Hondo kinda of pushed me off the wheel.”
It was the first time in 50 years that the bustling port city had hosted the Giro partenza. The mostly flat route along the spectacular seafront included four laps of a 16.4km course with a short category-4 climb, followed by eight laps of an 8km finishing circuit.
The break du jour contained Cameron Wurf (Cannondale), Giovanni Bonnafond (Ag2r La Mondiale), Marco Canola (Bardiani Valvole-CSF), Ricardo Mestre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Brian Bulgac (Lotto Belisol), and Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM).
Wurf went it alone the second trip over the category-4 climb and clung to a two-minute lead for quite a while as crashes and mechanicals interrupted the rhythm of the pursuit.
Despite the pileups, the bunch had trimmed his advantage to 1:40 with 52km to go, Omega Pharma sitting on the front for Cavendish. And the gap just kept coming down as the race hit the finishing circuits.
With 30km to go Wurf held just 30 seconds on the chase, which was ravening along at 42.7 kph (26.5 mph). And with just under 20km to go, that was that — he was back in the bunch, and teams began organizing themselves on behalf of their sprinters and GC contenders.
Sky and Lampre had joined Omega Pharma at the front with a dozen kilometers remaining. With half that, Orica-GreenEdge had come forward, too, followed by Cannondale, and Omega seemed suddenly to have taken a back seat in the bunch.
Then another crash in the final kilometers split the peloton and Cannondale gave it the gas as Omega Pharma clawed its way back up, with Cavendish sitting about eighth wheel.
Orica delivered the final push to the line, and Matthew Goss rocketed off the front — but it was Cavendish taking the victory and the first maglia rosa of the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
“Tomorrow we’ll go out to try and protect the lead and respect the jersey,” said Cavendish.
Viviani was disappointed at finishing second. A former track racer, like Cavendish, he’s changed his focus this year, but so far without success.
“This year I’ve focused totally on the road but I’ve still to win a race,” he said. “I’m disappointed not to have won, especially as we’d planned to make sure I wouldn’t get boxed in and we executed that plan well.”
Still, he knows there will be other opportunities.
Said Viviani: “Cavendish won, but no one is unbeatable.”
Sunday brings a 17.4km team time trial on the island of Ischia.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from stage 1 of the 2013 Giro d’Italia.