Mark Cavendish is in a position to challenge for his fifth stage victory at the Giro d’Italia today and further secure his grip on the maglia rossa.
Cavendish has won four stages of the Giro thus far and may have another opportunity to add to that tally with a 214km run from Caravaggio to Vincenza, which is classed as flat, underway. Although some have tipped the trek won’t suit pure sprinters with a category four climb, which tops out at 12 per cent, within the final 25km, there is a long, flat drag to the finish.
The 28-year-old has been well protected – both in fast finishes and the mountains – by teammates throughout the first Grand Tour of the season that finishes Sunday with a final sprint stage. His rivals are dwindling in number in the third week of a weather affected Giro with former Milan-San Remo champion Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) the latest to bow out of the competition. John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) won a stage before his retirement whilst Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) is also out.
Goss had been suffering from bad cold symptoms since the second week and didn’t finish yesterday’s 16th stage to Ivrea. The Australian had been aiming to complete the race in which his best result was a third place in the sixth stage where key pilot Leigh Howard crashed and fractured his collarbone.
“Obviously Gossy is disappointed,” said Orica-GreenEdge sports director Julian Dean. “No one chooses to leave a race like this. We’re pretty close to the finish, and it would have been a good opportunity for him [stage 17]. There’s not much he could have done about it. Sick is sick.”
Garmin-Sharp lost another rider yesterday in Grand Tour debutant Nathan Haas, who crashed and was taken to hospital via ambulance.
“He has suffered multiple, severe contusions and abrasions but preliminary X-Rays show no fractures,” a team statement read.
Haas had initially been riding in support of 2012 Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal who did not start stage 13.
“It was a big honor to be selected for my first Grand Tour and I gave it my all,” Haas said. “Now I’ll go home, heal up, and focus on what’s next.”
Goss and Haas were two of six retirements yesterday including Taylor Phinney (BMC). Mattia Gavazzi (Androni Giocattoli) was disqualified for allegedly holding onto team cars during the 16th stage in which more than one rider was critical of the general use of ‘sticky bidons’.
Cadel Evans, who is currently second overall, is down two teammates with Phinney’s retirement and ahead of Thursday’s time trial and two high mountain stages Friday and Saturday, which, according to reports, may yet be altered due to bad weather. Race organisers last weekend excluded the Galibier from stage 15 for the same reason.
Cavendish has won the points standing at every Grand Tour except the Giro. Speaking to Cycling Weekly prior to his 100th professional victory last Wednesday the Manxman was modest about his chances of adding it the palmares this year. But one week on he is in a better position to do so, now leading Evans
by six points, instead of trailing by 15, prior to stage 17. Evans though will have opportunities to make-up the deficit before Sunday.
“It’s not really even for the points jersey,” Cavendish had said of his incentive to finish the entire race, contrary to previous years. “It would be nice to do it but I knew – when there was like four sprints – it wasn’t really possible anyway. But I still want to win Grand Tour stages, still want to win stages of the Giro, and I’ve got a team here that is built around me, so to just f*** off after a couple of weeks it leaves a few guys out.”