Cycling’s greatest-ever sprinter Mark Cavendish clocked up another big career victory on Sunday, blasting home first on the final stage of the Giro d’Italia in the week where he announced that he is to retire from pro cycling at the end of the season.
The 38-year-old positioned himself perfectly and uncorked a brilliant sprint in Rome, beating Alex Kirsch (Trek-Segafredo) plus the rest of the peloton to take the 54th Grand Tour stage win of his career.
Eddie Dunbar finished safely in the main bunch to end the Giro a fine seventh overall, well inside his target of a top 10 result. He ended the race 7.30 behind the winner Primož Roglič, who took the race leader’s pink jersey from Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) with a dominant time-trial victory on Saturday.
Dunbar had started the day just one second ahead of Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM) and had to keep close tabs on the Norwegian. He had a scare with 12 kilometres to go, dropping off the back of the peloton with a chain problem. He chased back on soon afterwards but had to keep working to get towards the front of the peloton, so as to avoid any gaps in the bunch which could cost him dearly.
He had another close call in the final sprint, having to veer to the left when the German Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) and several other riders came down. He rolled across the line in 15th place, sealing his seventh place overall.
The Cork rider impressed on multiple occasions in the race, climbing steadily from 26th place on day two to fourth overall on stage 18. He weakened slightly on stages 19 and 20, with the accumulated fatigue of three weeks of racing taking its toll. His preparation for the event had been disrupted by a fractured hand in February, and a resulting two months out of competition. Having previously ridden only one Grand Tour in his career was also a constraint.
Riders tend to gain strength from each Grand Tour they do, so Dunbar will take great encouragement from that. So too Ben Healy, the 22-year-old making his Grand Tour debut in the race. He won stage eight, was second on stage 15 and was awarded the most combative rider award on both days. He also led the King of the Mountains classification for two days and ended up third in that contest.
Both of their showings are very encouraging for Irish cycling, and Dunbar and Healy will go on to even bigger things.
Dunbar is in his first year as a team leader and said that the Giro experience was invaluable. “There was a lot I learned,” he said before the stage. “I haven’t spent too much time thinking about it, now is not the time, next week’s the time to do that. Just enjoy today and get through it safely. Then I’ll sit down in the next few weeks and assess.”
He said that his team helped him to reduce the pressure of the race. “It’s only as stressful as you make it, and thankfully the guys made it easy for me these last three weeks to be kind of stress-free, to a certain extent. A lot of guys were a lot more stressed, I felt. That’s one thing I probably learned over the three weeks – control your stress and you will enjoy it a bit more.”
Cavendish is on the opposite end of his career, riding his last Giro d’Italia. He was helped by friend and former team-mate Thomas inside the final three kilometres, and referred to that in his post-race comments.
“I’m super happy. It was a long, hard slog to get to the end of the Giro,” he said. “But we went close a couple of times before. My boys [team-mates] did incredible and my friends did incredible. I just had some great friends today, long-time friends. It’s pretty emotional, to be fair.
“My first Grand Tour victory was in 2008 in the Giro. To win here in Rome is beautiful. That is a bucket list sprint to be able to do, outside the Colosseum. I am so happy.”