Tour de France sprint king Mark Cavendish cruised to victory in the sixth and penultimate stage of Tirreno-Adriatico on Monday, with Spaniard Alberto Contador retaining the overall lead.
Following a crash in the final bend caused by a Lampre rider and which took down another from the Lotto team, Cavendish went on to surge from behind the wheels of three Omega-Pharma teammates in the final 150 metres of the 189 km stage from Bucchianico to Porto Sant’Elpidio to win solo.
Italian teammate Alessandro Petacchi finished second with Slovakian Peter Sagan in third place.
Less than a week from the season’s first major one-day classic, the Milan-San Remo, Cavendish said he was delighted with the form that has seen him win one stage on the Tour of the Algarve as well as his victory on Monday.
“I’m really happy because I’m in great shape. I can’t wait for Milan-SanRemo,” the Isle of Man rider told Rai television.
Earlier, Sagan’s Cannondale team upped the pace when it became clear that sprint rival Marcel Kittel was struggling on one of several climbs.
In the closing kilometres Philippe Gilbert pulled clear of the peloton after it had caught an earlier four-man breakaway.
However the Belgian, who will also fancy his chances in San Remo on Sunday, was reeled in as Omega-Pharma upped the pace for the final dash for the line.
A right-hand bend proved fatal for the sprinters looking to prevail on the long home straight, with Germany’s Andre Greipel one of several caught up in the ensuing melee.
It left a small group of riders to go on and contest the win, but with three teammates pacing him in furious fashion in the finale there was little chance of Cavendish facing an upset.
Contador, who claimed the overall lead with victory on stage five, still leads Nairo Quintana by 2min 08sec in the overall standings ahead of Tuesday’s final stage, a 9.1 km time trial.
The Spaniard’s sporting director at Tinkoff-Saxo, Philippe Mauduit, said: “It was a perfect scenario for us. We were hoping that the sprinter teams would take the reigns of the pack and as Kittel was dropped, they were all eager to work in the front so we didn’t have to.
“Now, we’re only one stage away from the overall win and let’s face it, it looks pretty promising with a two minute lead to Quintana.
“But history shows that many unforeseen things can happen during a time trial and we’re not celebrating until Alberto crosses the finish line tomorrow.”