Mark Cavendish was left frustrated after missing out on the chance to contest what may have been his final sprint at the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday. But Geraint Thomas finished safely in the pink jersey ahead of two big mountain tests.
Stage 17 ended, as expected, in a bunch gallop on what was a pan-flat finish in Caorle, a coastal town near Venice. However, Cavendish, who had been on Bahrain Victorious rider Jonathan Milan’s wheel in the run-up to the final, surrendered position on one of two tight left-handers inside the last two kilometres and lost around 20 places. The Manxman eventually sat up, banging his handlebars in disappointment as he approached the line.
The 38 year-old, who announced on Monday’s rest day that this season would be his last, was later seen having a word with Filippi Magli of Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizane, with Eurosport’s Adam Blythe suggesting there were “arguments” taking place over something that had happened.
Cavendish is yet to win this season for his new team Astana. He may yet have one more opportunity to sprint on Sunday’s final stage in Rome.
There are two brutish stages to come before then, with all eyes on Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) as he attempts to defend the pink leader’s jersey he regained on Stage 16 on Tuesday.
The Welshman, who celebrates his 37th birthday on Thursday, finished safely in the peloton on Stage 17, guided to the finish by Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Ben Swift to retain his 18-second advantage over Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) in the general classification. Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglic remains third, 29 seconds down.
But he now has two almighty mountain stages to negotiate with summit finishes on Thursday in Val di Zoldo, and again on Friday to Tre Cime di Laveredo. The fight for the maglia rosa will conclude with a hilly time trial on Saturday, and Thomas admitted he “feared” both of his nearest competitors.
“It was an all right day, a little bit of rain but nothing compared to what we’ve had so far,” Thomas said of Wednesday’s stage. “It was a bit of a crazy bunch finish, we’re happy to get that done. We knew the sprint teams would race a decent pace and we were able to save as much as possible for the next three days.”
Asked whether it would be a nice birthday treat to ride in the pink jersey, Thomas added: “It will be nice, hopefully it will be a good day. The main thing was to save the legs as much as possible for the next three days. Both Primoz Roglic and Joao Almeida are very dangerous. Joao is a bit closer. Both are super strong TT riders, I’m afraid of both to be honest. Friday seems like the queen stage. From the experience I have, I’ve got the confidence and the belief that I can win. I know how to not get carried away."
In the stage itself, Alberto Dainese bounced back from stomach problems to win in a photo finish from Milan, who had appeared out of position on the final bend only to surge to within a few millimetres of victory.
“In the last metres I was really digging deep,” Dainese said. “I saw Jonny coming, I couldn’t really throw my bike because I was on the limit but it was nice to get my wheel a few centimetres in front to get the win.
“Especially after the last five days, I was quite sick with stomach issues and also my breathing was not good and today was the first day I was feeling good. I’m super happy, I can’t thank my team enough for keeping me in the race and keeping me motivated.”