Mark Cavendish has taken a superb stage win in the bunch sprint in stage two of The Three Days of De Panne and put himself among the favourites for next week’s Ghent-Wevelgem.

The High Road pro blasted out of the pack with some 150 metres to go and was a good three bike lengths clear by the finish. It?s no exaggeration to say that the rest of the field were nowhere.

After a day long break of three was brought in five kilometres from the line, a bunch sprint was inevitable. But in a manic finale, there was no clear line to follow and no team could control the front end of the race.

Cavendish’s first place though, was more than clear, and it was even more exceptional given the strength of the opposition and the frantic nature of the sprint. The Brit beat Liquigas’ Francesco Chicchi (who placed second), Geert Steegmans (Quick Step) and Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto). Third was Francais des Jeux’s Sebastian Chavanel.

Coming after a massive 227 kilometre stage, the result bodes more than well for Cavendish’s chances next week, when he tackles his first major spring classic, Ghent-Wevelgem. Following his madison gold in Manchester, his morale was clearly already high, and this win, his first of 2008, will make it even higher.

After giving big hugs to his team-mates, including Roger Hammond, Cavendish told journalists: ?I have to thank them, they did a great job. There was just too much going on at the finish, but I got a gap no problem.?

In yesterday’s first stage Cavendish’s compatriot and team-mate Roger Hammond took part in a major break.

Cavendish made it look easy. By Luc Claessen

STAGE TWO RESULTS

1 Mark Cavendish (GB) High Road 228km in 6hr 06min 35sec
2 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Liquigas
3 Sebastian Chavanel (Fra) Francaise de Jeux
4 Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank
5 Kenny De Haes (Bel) Vlaanderen
36 Ian Stannard (GB) Landbouwkrediet
41 Roger Hammond (GB) High Road all same time ‘

OVERALL AFTER STAGE TWO

1 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Barloworld 11hr 04min 35sec
2 Luca Paolini (Ita) Acqua Sapone at 5sec
3 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas at 7sec
4 Niki Terpstra (Hol) Milram at 11sec
5 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) High Road at 25sec
19 Roger Hammond (GB) High Road at 1min 10sec
49 Ian Stannard (GB) Landbouwkrediet at st
140 Mark Cavendish (GB) High Road at 17min 22sec