Italy Giro CyclingBritish standout Mark Cavendish celebrates as he wins the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia in a sprint in Naples, Italy, Saturday, May 4, 2013. 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. (AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari)

By Alasdair Fotheringham

NAPLES, Italy, May 4 (Reuters) – The Omega Pharma-Quick Step train was derailed but Mark Cavendish was just too strong for his sprint rivals, clinching victory in the first stage of the Giro d’Italia to claim the overall leader’s pink jersey on Saturday.

The Briton beat Italian Elia Viviani in the home straight despite being on his own after his team mates could not set up a proper launching-pad for the former road race world champion who prevailed with an awe-inspiring late burst of power.

French champion Nacer Bouhanni came home third as only nine men contested the final sprint after a crash split the peloton.

Pre-race favourites Bradley Wiggins, Italian Vincenzo Nibali and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal of Canada escaped unscathed.

“It was a difficult stage for me. With all the corners it wasn’t easy,” Cavendish told reporters.

“The team were incredible in staying in front but we didn’t get it right at the end. It has cost us a lot recently but I managed to come around and win.

“I was in the red for most of the stage. I was so tired and it was so hot.”

There were 207 riders at the start of the three-week tour, nine more than usual after Katusha were included in the race following their successful appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to get a World Tour spot.

The race got off to a nervous start as the peloton tackled four laps of a 16.4-km circuit on narrow roads in Naples before ending the stage with eight laps of a 8-km circuit

Frenchman Laurent Pichon and Ukraine’s Yaroslav Popovych were among those slightly injured in early crashes. Pablo Urtasun of Spain also hit the deck before a crash with less than three kilometres left dashed the hopes of several sprint specialists who were held behind.

Cavendish, however, was not caught off guard, following the pace set by Cannondale’s Viviani before timing his effort to perfection.

His team mate Gert Steegmans could not stay with him in the finale after suffering a mechanical.

“Yet again Gert had a mechanical problem. It’s the third time that it has happened,” said Cavendish.

Sunday’s second stage is a 17.4-km team time trial on the island of Ischia.