When Mark Cavendish held up the race number 108 on the winner's podium on Thursday, nobody needed reminding what it signified: the number worn by Wouter Weylandt in the 2011 Giro d'Italia, exactly two years ago when he died in a tragic downhill crash.
A former Quick Step rider himself - and who had won in the Giro three years before on the same day, too - Cavendish put it simply and movingly when asked about what Weylandt represented. "It's a very hard day for us, he's always in our thoughts," he said.
The Giro goes on, though, and that means almost by default Cavendish goes on racking up the victories: 99 now in total in his career, 9 in 2013, 38 in Grand Tour stage wins and 12 in the Giro d'Italia. "There have been two bunch sprint wins and I've won both," Cavendish said. "It couldn't be going better."
The two 2013 Giro victories could not have been more different, though: in the first, at Naples, Cavendish had to fend for himself in the final 500 metres after his teammate Geert Steegmans had a mechanical and a split second decision saw him dart across the right-hand side of the road as the lead group veered left and take a narrow, but convincing, victory. This time, Steegmans ‘dropped Cavendish off' with 200 metres to go in faultless style and the Manxman blasted away up the centre of the road in a single, straight line, towards victory.
As if Cavendish's superiority was not clear enough, he then gave his rivals even more reason to lose morale by pointing out that, "I'm not in top form yet. If I was then I'd have got over that climb yesterday [Wednesday]." - the final ascent into Matera, where Cavendish was dropped.
Although the questions about whether Alessandro Petacchi, who was reported to be in negotiations with Omega Pharma to join the team in the week before the Giro and act as a support rider, might have made a difference had he been racing still occasionally crop up, they are noticeably dwindling under the weight of evidence that Omega Pharma-QuickStep are 100 percent on top of their game in the Giro. And Cavendish insisted that he had no complaints whatsoever about how his team was performing in the 2013 Giro.
"I'm happy, the team did a brilliant job today, right from the beginning. [Jack] Bobridge and [Cameron] Wurf were two strong guys to have away, but we had [Serge] Pauwels and [Gianluca] Brambrilla working hard there early on to pull them back. Then in the last kilometres Julien Vermote, who's a young guy, got dropped but came back up again to help support. They were all riding until they couldn't do any more, they rode brilliantly."
"And that was before the lead-out began. Geert Steegmans, when he's at his best, is one of the best lead-out men ever."
Cavendish said that although there had been talk in the peloton of whether they should continue racing or ease back when Bradley Wiggins (Sky) was caught behind in the big crash with 30 kilometres to go, they opted to wait.
"I'm going to stick my neck out for all the teams, and say everybody decided to wait. Nobody went full gas. We didn't speed up, we slowed down," he said.
"If I had crashed, they might not have waited, that's what happened in 2009, I lost the maglia [of race leader] for that reason, when I crashed. But that's not what happened today. We waited."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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