Mark Cavendish claimed his fourth win of the 96th Giro d’Italia on Friday after sprinting to victory in the 13th stage, at 254km the longest of the race, from Busseto to Cherasco.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali remained in the race leader’s pink jersey with Australia’s Cadel Evans in second place at 41 seconds.
Earlier, top favorite Bradley Wiggins and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal pulled out of the race due to illness.
Cavendish, a former world champion from the Isle of Man, took his 13th win from five editions on the Giro on Thursday.
A number of teams, including Australians Orica-GreenEdge, whose top sprinter is Matt Goss, had hoped to stop the Manxman dominating again on one of the last remaining chances for the non-climbers.
However, their top finisher was Goss’s lead-out man, Brett Lancaster, who finished in fourth, ahead of Italian Elia Viviani.
After Viviani’s Cannondale team had taken over the fast pace-setting in the final kilometer Cavendish began his sprint early, but held on to keep Italian Giacomo Nizzolo and Slovenian Luka Mezgec off his wheel at the finish line.
Perhaps considering there is a weekend of mainly climbing in the high mountains, the Manxman said: “I’m so, so tired. I don’t know how I’m going to recover before the mountains tomorrow. A sprint like that takes so much effort out of you. I was right on the limit, I had to go from 350 meters out and I’m on my knees now. The guys saved me on the climbs today and I feel like this is now building into the teams I had of old.”
Earlier, a seven-man breakaway enjoyed a lead of nearly 14 minutes after escaping from the peloton at the 21km mark.
However, efforts by Goss and Cavendish’s respective teams soon ate into their sizeable advantage, with Spaniard Pablo Lastras the last rider from that escape to be caught with 15km to race by a small counter-attacking group.
Italian Giampaolo Caruso managed to attack solo from the new lead group with around 6.5km remaining, but was reeled in with 1.5km left of the 4km home straight.
Cavendish, who turns 28 next week, now has 14 Giro wins, 23 Tour de France wins and three stage wins from the Tour of Spain.
After Wiggins’ withdrawal, Team Sky’s leader is now Colombian Rigoberto Uran, who sits third at 2:04.