Mark Cavendish’s long-serving leadout man, Bernie Eisel, was left ruing Team Sky’s missed opportunity on the sprint finish of stage 18.
Despite having Eisel and Geraint Thomas at his disposal, Cavendish came second best to Andrea Guardini of Farnese-Vini, much to the delight of the Italian fans crowded around the finish line in Vedelago.
“We were running a bit short of riders, I knew it already when G [Geraint] passed me with 600m to go,” Eisel explained. “The finish was a long straight line and the people behind always have a nice slipstream and that’s what happened.”
After Team Sky took charge of the peloton for the majority of the day and maintained an average speed nudging 30mph, Eisel was disappointed with Farnese-Vini’s lack of cooperation.
“If he [Guardini] was really the stronger rider on the day then his team would have been on the front riding, not attacking,” the Austrian added.
Despite missing out on maximum points in the final sprint on stage 18, Cavendish remains at the top of the points jersey classification after picking up an extra 20 points on his nearest rival Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha).
Cavendish, now on 138 points, sits 29 points clear of Rodriguez on 109 but with two mountain stages remaining it is unlikely that the world champion will add to his score. Despite that, both he and Eisel are expected to continue in the race until Milan.
“It’s been good three weeks for us; we’ve won enough,” said Eisel. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to bring the white jersey to Milan and Cav and I will make it to Milan and we will see what happens with the red jersey. Whether we get it or not, it doesn’t matter.”
As the race returns to the Dolomites today, Rodriguez himself will be targeting the final two summit finishes in order to extend his time gap over his perceived main threat, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) who sits just 30 seconds behind him in the GC.
With a maximum of 66 points available to the Spaniard, eight each for the two remaining intermediate sprints and 25 on each finish, all Cavendish can do is ride to finish within the time limits and make it to Milan.
With that in mind, Cav will be hoping that rumours of avalanche warnings on the Passo dello Stelvio, the 2757m high grande finale of stage 20 tomorrow, turn out to be true.
Giro d’Italia 2012: Latest news
Giro d’Italia 2012: Live coverage
Giro d’Italia 2012: Stage reports
Stage 18: Guardini beats Cavendish in final Giro sprint
Stage 17: Rodriguez wins stage to consolidate lead
Stage 16: Izagirre claims Basque breakaway victory
Stage 15: Rabottini takes tough win in Giro
Stage 14: Amador wins Giro’s first high mountain stage as Hesjedal reclaims lead
Stage 13: Cavendish makes it three
Stage 12: Bak attacks to win
Stage 11: Ferrari wins Giro stage on ride to redemption
Stage 10: Rodriguez wins thrilling finale to take lead
Stage nine: Ventoso wins in Frosinone as Goss and Cavendish fall
Stage eight: Pozzovivo takes another Giro win
Stage seven: Hesjedal moves into Giro lead
Stage six: Rubiano solos to epic Giro stage win
Stage five: Cavendish bounces back for another stage win
Stage four: Garmin-Barracuda win TTT to take lead
Stage three: Goss wins in Horsens as Cavendish and Phinney crash
Stage two: Cavendish wins in Herning
Stage one: Phinney wins time trial
Giro d’Italia 2012: Photo galleries
Giro d’Italia 2012: Blogs
Charly Wegelius’ Giro blog: Conserving energy for the final week
Charly Wegelius’ Giro blog: Holding on to the lead
Charly Wegelius’ Giro blog: Getting the team time trial right
Giro moto blog: Hurray for rest day
Giro moto blog: Stage 10
Giro d’Italia 2012: Teams and riders
Giro d’Italia 2012: TV guide