Published — Sunday 5 May 2013
Last update 5 May 2013 2:40 am
NAPLES, Italy: British standout Mark Cavendish won the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia in a sprint yesterday that was marred by a crash shortly before the finish.
The main pack was split into two groups when riders went down with less than 2 kilometers to go in the 130-kilometer (81-mile) leg and only about 10-15 riders were left in front to contest the sprint.
Cavendish, who rides for the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team, finished in 2 hours, 58 minutes, 38 seconds on the circuit in downtown Naples, which featured a long, flat finishing straight.
Cavendish has now won a combined 37 stages at the Giro, Tour and Vuelta — cycling’s three Grand Tours.
Elia Viviani, an Italian with Cannondale, crossed second, and Nacer Bouhanni, a Frenchman with FDJ, was third.
Overall favorites Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali, along with defending champion Ryder Hesjedal, finished safely in the main pack.
It was the 11th Giro stage win of Cavendish’s career and his 98th victory overall. He’ll wear the overall leader’s pink jersey in Sunday’s second stage, a team time trial on the nearby island of Ischia.
It will mark the fourth time Cavendish wears the pink jersey. He wore it for two days in 2009 when his former team Columbia won the opening team time trial and for one day in 2011 after a stage win.
“I’ve worn it before at the start but that was thanks to my team,” Cavendish said. “I really wanted to win this here in Napoli. ... Now I want to go for a pizza.”
The course featured two mild climbs in the Posillipo neighborhood and several loops down the finishing straight alongside the bay.
On a warm spring day, fans came out en masse to watch the race. Some even brought their dogs, one of which nearly tripped up some riders on a sharp corner after slipping under a barrier lining the road.
With the roads narrow in areas and stretches of cobblestones, there were several crashes. Among those who hit the asphalt were Laurent Pichon of France, Matteo Rabottini of Italy and Miguel Minguez Ayala of Spain.
There were a couple of groups of early breakaway riders and the last man caught by the main pack was Cameron Wurf, an Australian with Cannondale, with about 20 kilometers (12 miles) to go.
Cavendish’s Omega team led the chase.
Sunday’s team time trial from Ischia to Forio lasts 17.4 kilometers (10.8 miles).
The race ends May 26 in Brescia.