Movistar’s Francisco Alberdi Ventoso (R) of Spain sprints to win the 166 km ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia from San Giorgio del Sannio to Frosinone, May 14, 2012. (REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo)

By Alasdair Fotheringham

FROSINONE, Italy (Reuters) May 14 – Spain’s Francisco Ventoso won the ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Monday in a bunch sprint blighted by crashes which put world champion Mark Cavendish’s hopes of a third victory in this year’s race in jeopardy.

Favorite for the sprint, Team Sky’s Cavendish, who won stages two and five, was involved in a multiple rider pile-up on a sharp left-hand bend close to the finish, sliding off his saddle and into the barriers and almost falling.

“At the end Cav couldn’t start his sprint because he was caught right behind the crash; he didn’t crash hard himself luckily but it’s a real shame,” Team Sky’s sports director Steve de Jongh told the team’s website (www.teamsky.com).

“He’s absolutely fine though and it didn’t cause him any trouble from an injury point of view.”

Stage three winner Matt Goss, of Australia, also fell but the race organizers said the riders could complete the course.

Italian rider Filippo Pozzato said he was responsible for the pile-up, and apologized on Italian television.

“I hope nobody is injured, I lost control of my bike. I’m sorry,” Pozzato told reporters.

Italy’s Fabio Felline finished second on the flat stage from San Giorgio del Sannio to Frosinone and his compatriot Giacomo Nizzolo was third.

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal remained overall leader for the third day.

A winner of a Vuelta stage in 2006 and an uphill sprint stage in Fiuggi in the Giro last year, Ventoso said his victory came after he had taken “the right risk.”

“I wasn’t in the best position, I was a bit back on the corner, but I was lucky, too,” he said.

Asked about the crash, Ventoso said: “They can’t have five kilometer finishing straights every day for bunch sprints.

“I think if anybody made a mistake today, it was the riders.”

Garmin-Barracuda rider Hesjedal finished seventh in the final sprint and retained his lead after an ambush close to the finish from Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, second overall, was reeled in.

Rodriguez blasted off with three other riders on a slight rise before the sprinters’ teams caught him.

“I stayed up front to try and hold my position overall,” Hesjedal said. “The crash happened in front of me, but I steered to the left and I was ok.”

Asked about Rodriguez, Hesjedal added: “He’s an explosive competitor, he’ll take any chances he can get.”

The Giro d’Italia finishes in Milan on May 27.