British sprint king Mark Cavendish won a chaotic opening stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday to pull on the race leader’s pink jersey for the third time in his career. The Isle of Man rider, winning his 11th stage in the epic Italian race, dominated a small but hectic group sprint to leave Elia Viviani of the Cannondale team in second place after nearly three hours of frantic racing around Naples. Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni was third while Australian Matthew Goss finished sixth after running out of steam in the final 200 meters of the 130 kilometer race opener.
“I came here to win sprints and I’ve started the race the way I wanted to,” said Cavendish, who appeared on the podium with his baby daughter Delilah.
Cavendish, winning his first Grand Tour stage for his new team Omega-Pharma, will now wear the pink jersey into Sunday’s second stage, a team time trial over 17.4km on the island of Ischia. Beginning on the Naples seafront in warm conditions, the opening stage featured two circuits – one 16.4km long with a short climb to be raced four times and a second, 8km circuit to be raced eight times.
With only 130km of racing it promised to be fast and after less than 15 minutes a small group of riders broke off the front to build a near two-minute lead on the peloton. Eventually, Australian Cameron Wurf became the sole survivor from the leading pack, but the Cannondale rider’s efforts allowed the rest of his team to forego participating in the chase. As the teams with sprinters moved to the front of the pack to up the pace in the closing 20km, Wurf’s lead evaporated and he was caught with just over 12km remaining.
Cannondale, however, had not had their final word. Three of the lime-green clad riders, including Viviani, hit the front and rode a frantic pace which strung the group out on the tight, twisting turns on the circuit. A number of riders crashed, and Cannondale’s efforts left a dozen or so riders on their own on the 1km-long home straight. Goss was well-positioned on the wheel of a teammate, but despite the Green-Edge sprinter grinding away in the final 200m Cavendish came from nowhere up the outside in timely fashion to leave a Viviani banging on his handlebars in frustration.
Cavendish, competing in his fifth Giro d’Italia, wore the race leader’s jersey for two days in 2009 and for one day in 2011.