Mark Cavendish kept the leader's jersey at Tirreno-Adriatico but was angry to have missed out on the sprint in Cascina after becoming detached from his Omega Pharma-QuickStep lead-out as a consequence of Marcel Kittel's late crash.
The Manxman used his bike handling skills to weave through the peloton in the final kilometre but eased up when he realised there was no way through to contest the sprint. Alessandro Petacchi tried to save the day for Omega Pharma-QuickStep by going up the outside but he hit the headwind and finished 36th. Cavendish was 17th.
Lead-out man Mark Renshaw finished 158th, more than two minutes after his teammates, but was given the same time as the main peloton after race judges ruled he had been delayed by the Kittel crash.
"We were behind Kittel with two kilometres to go when he crashed. After that it was difficult to get back up to the front," Cavendish explained.
"A few gentlemen in the peloton helped me find a way through but by the time I got to 500 metres to go, I was already tired."
With a headwind on the finish and more teams now following Giant-Shimano's tactic of waiting until the final two or three kilometres to start their sprint lead-out, finishes are becoming more hectic and more competitive than ever before.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep had hesitated before trying to lead-out the sprint after riding on the front of the peloton for much of the race to defend the race lead. Both those factors contributed to making for a chaotic sprint
Petacchi warmed down on the rollers after the sprint in the shadow of the team bus and admitted the run-in to Cascina had been a disappointing day.
"I was ahead but I heard a crash," Petacchi said.
"Renshaw also almost crashed and maybe Mark was left behind in that moment. When I saw Mark again, I tried to do something myself but by then it was too late."
Cavendish tried to look on the bright side but knows that Friday's finale is technical and rises to the finish in the centre of Arezzo.
"I'm happy with how the team rode today. There'll be other sprints and I'm happy with my form," he concluded.
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