Cavendish celebrates earliest win in a Grand Tour

Team Sky rider Mark Cavendish of Britain smiles at the start of the 206km (128 miles) second stage of the Giro d’Italia in Herning, Denmark, May 6, 2012. Cavendish won the stage while Taylor Phinney of the U.S. retained the leader’s pink jersey. The 95th Giro d’Italia started in Herning Denmark, and will finish in Milan, northern Italy on May 27. (REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini)

By Alasdair Fotheringham

HERNING, Denmark, May 6 (Reuters) – World champion Mark Cavendish secured his earliest victory in a Grand Tour on Sunday by clinching the first road stage of the Giro d’Italia in a challenging uphill sprint.

“It’s a new team (Sky) for me this year, some of the riders here hadn’t worked with me before as a squad, but races like these Grand Tours are the ones I thrive in,” Cavendish told reporters.

“I’ve never won a stage so early before and that’s a great sign.”

Sitting next to race leader Taylor Phinney, after munching on a large slice of cake the race organization had provided the American, Cavendish said it had been a long time since he had last sprinted in a race.

“”I’ve lost a lot of weight since then – and I’m putting it back on eating this cake – but my sensations were good, that’s okay, I’m able to kick again,” he said.

The Briton’s fifth victory of the season, eighth in the Giro and 26th in a Grand Tour, came ahead of Australian Matt Goss, who finished second behind Cavendish at the world championships last year in Denmark. France’s Geoffrey Soupe was third.

Cavendish was guided through the bunch to 200 metres to the line by Welsh team mate Geraint Thomas before making his final acceleration for the line.

“‘G’ (Thomas) was worried that he didn’t feel so good early on, he’s done a lot of track work and maybe hasn’t got the endurance you get from road racing but he did a perfect job all day,” Cavendish added.

“The racing wasn’t easy at all, it might have looked bunched up on the telly but we were fighting for space all the way through.

“There’s not the respect that there used to be. You get sprinters fighting climbers fighting sprinters. It’s nuts.”

Phinney, who crashed in the finale but was able to return to the pack in time, said everybody had kept telling him to enjoy my first day in the lead.

“But except for the first 20 kilometres it was too nervous for that,” he said. “When I came off I tried to stay calm, but you’ve always got that thought of losing the jersey.

“Tomorrow I’m guessing I’ll be a bit more relaxed now I know what to expect.”

The Giro d’Italia has a third and final stage on Monday in Denmark before returning to Italy on Tuesday. Commemoration ceremonies will take place for Belgium’s Wouter Weylandt, killed in a crash on stage three of the Giro last year.

“He was a nice guy, always smiling and he liked to be on the bike,” said Cavendish. “What happened was tragic, gives you goosebumps and for sure he’ll be remembered fondly tomorrow.”

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