Cavendish claims stage win
Mark Cavendish on Monday won the penultimate stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy.
Neither of Cavendish's two main rivals, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, were in position to contest the sprint, and the Manxman capitalised by winning by a huge margin of more than 10 bike lengths.
Such was the void to his nearest competitors, Cavendish's Omega Pharma - Quick-Step team-mate and lead-out rider Alessandro Petacchi took a distant second, with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) claiming third.
Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) followed safely in the peloton to retain his 2min 8sec lead in the general classification over Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Cavendish said afterwards: "I'm incredibly happy. Yesterday I felt the worst I have felt on a bike for a long time. I got here today and thought, 'Oh god, a sprint, I'm not going to feel good', but from the beginning I felt really good. The team stayed with me and we had one goal, which was to win the sprint.
"That lead-out was fast - super, super fast. To get it technically perfect like we did, I'm super happy with that. It would have been nice to sprint against Kittel and Greipel, but we will celebrate tonight."
Stage six took the riders on a largely flat 187km route from Bucchianico to Porto Sant'Elpidio on Italy's eastern coastline.
While sprint finishes are usually decided in the last couple of kilometres, the race for the line effectively began 50km out, when Cannondale moved to the front of the peloton on the short but steep climb of Sant'Elpidio a Mare and managed to drop Kittel (Giant-Shimano) by setting a fierce pace.
The German quickly fell one minute adrift and Cannondale continued to ride at a strong tempo as they looked to eliminate him from contention for the sprint.
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step and Greipel's Lotto Belisol team both sent men forward to help Cannondale, and although Giant-Shimano bravely closed back to within 23 seconds, they ran out of road and Kittel was forced to give up.
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step took over at the front of the bunch going into the closing kilometres and were so well placed that when a crash took place just behind their train with 1.3km to go, it momentarily gave them a substantial gap to the rest of the peloton.
Lotto Belisol were the biggest victims of the accident, forcing Greipel to chase frantically back to the Omega Pharma - Quick-Step train, but he narrowly failed to regain contact and joined Kittel is missing out on the sprint finish.
Cavendish, still on Petacchi's wheel, was already well ahead by the time he entered the last 500m and his subsequent sprint to the line was almost unccessary.
The performance of both Cavendish and his lead-out train bodes well for his chances at the Milan-San Remo one-day Classic on Sunday, which appears set to end in a sprint finish.