“What can you do? You’ve got to try,” was Mark Cavendish’s measured response after his Giro d’Italia rivals executed an expected plan to drop the sprinter on the Portella Mandrazzi midway through stage 5 to ensure the fastest of the fast men didn’t make it to the bunch sprint in Messina.
With more than 100 km remaining, Cavendish slipped off the back as Alpecin-Fenix drove the pace to dislodge the purest sprinters on the one climb of the day. Caleb Ewan was the first to go before the Manxman, and then the eventual stage winner Arnaud Démare also lost contact near the top.
“We were 30 seconds behind Groupama-FDJ and Caleb was behind us,” Cavendish continued telling Eurosport of the situation on the climb. “Ironically, if all of us were together, we’d probably get back. But barrages are different so you have a different chance. It’s how it is.”
These tactics had been expected by Quick-Step AlphaVinyl, and after more than 40km of chasing, the self-styled wolfpack called off their hunt. The view from the team is if Cavendish had been there to contest the finish it would have been seen as a bonus opportunity for another stage win rather than a chance missed.
“In the end, what can you do?” Cavendish said. “It’s alright we tried. Of course you’re always disappointed, but we knew that was going to happen today. It was a bonus if we could sprint today but we’ll try again.”
UAE Team Emirates’ Fernando Gaviria, a rider you would have expected to be amongst the dropped, was instead left to smash his front wheel against the ground in frustration as he crossed the line in second.
“Something I can’t say in the interview but it was okay, we tried,” Gaviria said of not being able to say on television how he really felt about his second place. “I’m really disappointed because I had really good legs and after the climb I felt really good. We’ll try again. We lost [leadout man] Max Richeze because his gear changed and then it was impossible to come back.”
When the race finally hits the Italian mainland tomorrow on stage 6, another flat offering after a lump at the start, there will be a growing list of sprinters lining up and out for revenge at this Giro d’Italia.