World champion Mark Cavendish secured his earliest victory in a Grand Tour on Sunday by clinching the first road stage of the Giro d’Italia in a challenging uphill sprint.
“It’s a new team [Sky] for me this year, some of the riders here hadn’t worked with me before as a squad, but races like these Grand Tours are the ones I thrive in,” Cavendish told reporters. “I’ve never won a stage so early before and that’s a great sign.”
Sitting next to race leader Taylor Phinney, after munching on a large slice of cake the race organizers had provided the American, Cavendish said it had been a long time since he had last sprinted in a race.
“I’ve lost a lot of weight since then — and I’m putting it back on eating this cake — but my sensations were good, that’s OK, I’m able to kick again,” he said.
The Briton’s fifth victory of the season, his eighth in the Giro and 26th in a Grand Tour, came ahead of Australian Matt Goss, who finished second behind Cavendish at the world championships last year in Denmark. France’s Geoffrey Soupe was third.
Cavendish was guided through the bunch to 200m to the line by Welsh teammate Geraint Thomas, before making his final acceleration for the line.
“‘G’ [Thomas] was worried that he didn’t feel so good early on, he’s done a lot of track work and maybe hasn’t got the endurance you get from road racing, but he did a perfect job all day,” Cavendish said.
“The racing wasn’t easy at all, it might have looked bunched up on the telly, but we were fighting for space all the way through,” he said. “There’s not the respect that there used to be. You get sprinters fighting climbers, fighting sprinters. It’s nuts.”
Phinney, who crashed in the finale, but was able to return to the peloton in time, said everybody had kept telling him to enjoy his first day in the lead.
“But except for the first 20 kilometers, it was too nervous for that,” Phinney said.
“When I came off, I tried to stay calm, but you’ve always got that thought of losing the jersey,” he said. “Tomorrow I’m guessing I’ll be a bit more relaxed now I know what to expect.”
The Giro d’Italia had a third and final stage in Denmark yesterday, before returning to Italy.
Commemoration ceremonies were due to take place for Belgium’s Wouter Weylandt, killed in a crash on stage three of the Giro last year.
“He was a nice guy, always smiling and he liked to be on the bike,” Cavendish said.
“What happened was tragic, gives you goosebumps, and for sure he’ll be remembered fondly tomorrow,” he said.