Mark Cavendish will make his first Grand Tour start for Omega Pharma-QuickStep at the Giro
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Manxman is the favourite to triumph in Naples
Although a late attempt to sign Alessandro Petacchi as his lead-out man was thwarted by UCI regulations, Mark Cavendish has insisted that he is pleased with the composition of his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team for the Giro d'Italia.
When Petacchi rescinded his contract with Lampre-Merida last week in what he said was a "break" rather than a retirement, Omega Pharma-QuickStep's interest was quickly piqued, particularly given that Cavendish's lead-out train has suffered from repeated glitches through the early season. Cavendish had already made overtures to Petacchi at the tail end of last season, but he was circumspect when asked about the veteran Italian in his pre-Giro press conference in Naples on Thursday.
"Obviously, it's a big thing to have a big rider in the team, but we've got a strong team for the Giro d'Italia and we're motivated to do well," said Cavendish, who will count on another Italian - Matteo Trentin - as his last man at the Giro. "We've got a mix of riders and they're strong guys. Trentin is back, too, after his scaphoid fracture."
As Cavendish pointed out, he has rarely had such a successful start to this season, but the sense is that he could have won even more if his squad had been able to pilot him in the manner to which he became accustomed at HTC-Highroad. Scheldeprijs was a case in point, where the ground Cavendish was forced to make up on Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) ultimately proved to be just too much.
"We've won a lot - I've won seven races so far this year including the overall at the Tour of Qatar, so things have been going great," Cavendish said. "It's been the most successful start to the year I've had. We've won great. Maybe things didn't go well in the end and there are things you can work on, but now it's a different part of the season with different guys."
The last man to win in Naples at the Giro was Mario Cipollini in 1996, but in the wake of a damning account of Cipollini's links to blood doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in Gazzetta dello Sport in February, Cavendish was understandably not keen to dwell on the prospect. "For sure, I'd like to win the stage, but it's irrelevant who won there before," Cavendish said.
Saturday also marks the first time in 10 years that the Giro d'Italia begins with a road stage, and Cavendish is the favourite to follow in the wheel tracks of the last sprinter to take the maglia rosa on the opening day - one Alessandro Petacchi, who won the first of six stages at the 2003 Giro in Lecce.
"It's quite straightforward, it's going to be a sprint," Cavendish said of stage 1, a 130km promenade around Naples before a grandstand finish on Via Caracciolo. The Neapolitan traffic, however, means that reconnoitring the finale beforehand is an impossibility.
"It's a beautiful finish, although I don't think it's possible to study the course because of the traffic," Cavendish laughed. "I can imagine that it's chaos even just looking at the streets of Napoli on Google maps."
With stage one composed of four circuits out to Posillipo and then eight laps around the seafront finale, Cavendish will at least have the chance to survey the terrain during the stage, even if opportunities for further sprint glory later in the Giro seem limited.
"It's a nice circuit here, and it's quite good for me," Cavendish said. "The more laps you get to do during the race, the more of look you get at it. Obviously there's a bit of pressure now because we don't have too many opportunities after Saturday."