Mark Cavendish waved goodbye to the Giro d’Italia in the perfect fashion in front of the Colosseum in Rome this afternoon, bursting off the wheel of Fernando Gaviria to take an emphatic, convincing victory and continue his run of winning a stage at every Giro he’s started during his long, illustrious career.
The 38-year-old British champion, who announced his intention to retire from the sport at the end of 2023 during a rest day press conference earlier this week, was aided in the closing kilometres by former teammate, and second place overall at this Giro, Geraint Thomas, who gestured towards Cavendish before helping tee up arguably cycling’s greatest ever sprinter for a fitting, and emotional, farewell to a race at which he’s enjoyed so much success over the years.
That impromptu acceleration by Ineos Grenadiers leader Thomas – who lost the pink jersey in devastating fashion to Primož Roglič in yesterday’s decisive mountain time trial – proved crucial in stringing out the peloton heading into the final kilometre and, perhaps inadvertently, provided British fans with echoes of yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins’ own lead out for Cavendish on the Champs-Élysées at the 2012 Tour de France.
“I was just there, and I saw he only had Luis León [Sánchez] with him, and I thought I’d help a brother out,” Thomas told GCN’s Adam Blythe at the finish.
But, unlike that 2012 Tour, the Astana sprinter was still left with plenty to do in the closing stages over the harsh Roman cobbles.
As has been the case throughout a Giro where Cavendish has undoubtedly got stronger but the depth of his sprint train has continued to be called into question, the 38-year-old was forced to bounce between wheels, first settling on the in-form Jonathan Milan before latching onto a characteristically early launch from Movistar’s Gaviria.
The Colombian may have set him up perfectly, but Cavendish’s speed – a timely throwback to the acceleration synonymous with his earlier, dominant days – was undeniable.
At the end of an emphatic sprint that could have taken place during any of his 16 previous successes in Italy, as a crash took out Pascal Ackermann behind, the Manx Missile had the time and distance over his rivals to look around and reflect on a long and fruitful relationship with the Giro d’Italia, one which has now been capped in the most fitting fashion.
🔻 Today's last kilometre is the crowning of a legend 👑
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 28, 2023
And anyone hoping that Cavendish can use the momentum generated by a tough and ultimately successful Giro, as he aims to sign off at the Tour with that elusive record-breaking stage win can, will be buoyed by his typically feisty answer to a question posed during the post-race winner’s interview.
When it was noted that today’s victory was Cavendish’s first win of 2023, the British champion cuttingly replied, “You’ve always got to put a negative thing on every question, don’t you? Like a little pessimistic thing, it’s my first win.”
Nevertheless, the 38-year-old conceded, again in typical Cavendish style, that he was “super happy” with the showpiece stage win in Rome.
“It was a long, hard slog to get to the end of the Giro, but we’ve come close a couple of times before. And my boys did incredible, and my friends did incredible. I just had some great friends today,” he said, a thinly veiled reference to Thomas’ shift on the front in the final kilometres.
“It’s pretty emotional to be fair. My first grand tour win was in 2008 at the Giro – to win here in Rome, it’s beautiful. That’s a bucket list sprint to do, outside the Colosseum. I’m so happy.”
This is the Podium of the 2⃣0⃣2⃣3⃣ Giro d'Italia
Questo è il podio del Giro d'Italia 2⃣0⃣2⃣3⃣
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 28, 2023
As well as providing a fitting finale to Cavendish’s 15-year-long history with the Corsa Rosa, today’s Friends Reunited special in Rome, and the emotional celebrations which followed, may also go at least some way to softening the blow suffered by Thomas during yesterday’s shock and awe display by Roglič on Monte Lussari.
That dramatic denouement saw the Jumbo-Visma star – the victim, of course, of a strikingly similar raid at the 2020 Tour – wrest the pink jersey off the shoulders of the shellshocked Welshman, despite Thomas arguably not putting a foot wrong throughout the tumultuous, chaotic three weeks of this year’s especially grim Giro.
“It’s been good, it’s been emotional,” the 37-year-old said at the finish. “I had to stop reading text messages yesterday as I was starting to well up. It’s been a great race, the boys have been an amazing team. I really enjoyed it. I might be 37, but I feel at least 27.”
— Ford RideLondon (@RideLondon) May 28, 2023
Meanwhile, over in London, British cycling’s 2012 nostalgia party continued, as Lizzie Deignan continued her streak of securing podium places on the Mall by following up that Olympic silver medal from 11 years ago with third on GC at the RideLondon Classique, her second stage race since returning to the peloton just over a month ago following the birth of her second child last year.
Team DSM’s Charlotte Kool, again lead out to perfection by Pfeiffer Georgi, secured the overall title with her second win of the race in a tight sprint, while yesterday’s stage winner Chloé Dygert’s second place earned her enough bonus seconds to leapfrog Deignan on the podium.
“I was pretty nervous the whole day long and it was very hectic, very stressful. I stayed upright and to be honest that’s a win for me today,” Deignan, who finished 17th on today’s stage around central London, said. “My son is only eight months old and it’s been a whirlwind.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.