Mark Cavendish (Sky) places great store on his reverence for the history of the Giro d'Italia, and when the world champion rattled off his third stage win in Cervere on Friday, the assumption was that he would join in one of the corsa rosa's most time-honoured traditions – the mass exodus of sprinters ahead of the race's entry into the high mountains.
But when Cavendish arrived in the press room after the finish, it was not to bid a coy farewell to the Giro, but rather to reiterate his desire to carry on until Milan. Indeed, in picking up the remaining points on offer at the intermediate sprint, Cavendish had already hinted that he wouldn't be scrambling for departures at Turin airport on Friday evening.
"When I came to this Giro, I planned 100 percent on going to Milan and I really planned on winning the maglia rossa," Cavendish said in Cervere. "Obviously with the crashes, the red jersey might be out the window but I still don't have plans to go home."
With Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) leaving the race on Friday evening, Cavendish holds a healthy 51-point lead over Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in the points classification, though he has just one more chance to add to his tally, at Vedelago on Thursday.
Regardless of whether he holds red or not, however, Cavendish is keen to stay in the race and if he does so, there are murmurs that he may scratch the Tour de Suisse from his pre-Tour de France programme. "I'm feeling ok. Assuming I don't get eliminated by the time cut, I don't see myself going home just yet," he said.
Cavendish had a much-publicised brush with the time cut on the road to Porto Sant'Elpidio in the opening week, prompting speculation as to the true state of his form, but he pointed out that his heavy fall on stage 3 in Denmark had taken its toll.
"I came in with very good form and I could have got through the first weeks pretty relaxed, but after the big crash on the third day it really took me a while to recover," he said. "There were some hard days that I probably really would have been ok with if I hadn't crashed, but that really put me on the edge as my body wasn't great. Finally after a week I recovered and I'm getting a bit stronger now."
After a facing a series of technical finales during the opening two weeks of the Giro, Cavendish and the sprinters had as trouble free a run-in as one could imagine at Cervere, with a finishing straight some three kilometres in length. Nonetheless, Sky's lead-out was not quite pitch-perfect and they faced stiff competition from both Saxo Bank and Orica-GreenEdge, but Cavendish still managed to eke out the space he needed to launch his sprint.
"I had to rethink my calculations and wait for a gap to open," he said. "The team was really good and we got some more experience, but I think we can learn from today. To be fair we got out-led by GreenEdge, but I was lucky that Gossy opened the door. At first I thought he was just giving me a free sprint, but from the helicopter shot I saw that he was closing [Mark] Renshaw down."
Before his press conference drew to a close, a relaxed Cavendish also demonstrated a keen grasp on a more recent Giro tradition - Mario Cipollini's oft-repeated criticism of his weight. He smiled wryly as the question was put to him, and gently suggested in Italian that the Lion King start counting wins instead of kilos: "I won Milan-San Remo at 23 and the Worlds at 26, I've won twenty stages at the Tour de France and twelve stages here…"
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