A look at Mark Cavendish's big day out on stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia

The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider made the time cut, but did so much more

Mark Cavendish
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia was a category D stage, D for difficult. With three first category climbs, and one of the toughest uncategorised climbs ever seen at a Grand Tour thrown in for good measure, there was 5,268 metres of climbing to tackle.

The categorisation meant that the time cut was an incredibly generous 18% of the winner's time. Given Jan Hirt won in 5-40-45, that allowed everyone an extra 1-01-20 to cross the line and remain in the race. Sounds easy, right? 

The final group, which included the sprinters Mark Cavendish, Fernando Gaviria and Simone Consonni, crossed the finish line 53-11 down on Hirt, meaning they had a comfortable eight minutes and nine seconds gap to the cut. They really could have taken it easy on the climb of Valico di Santa Cristina, it could have been a fun day out.

What made Cavendish the exception to his fellow sprinters in the final gruppetto was that he had actually been at the front of the race earlier in the day.

On the queen stage of the Giro, on a day of an incredible amount of climbing, Cavendish snuck his way into the early breakaway.

His time at the pointy end of the action might have only lasted 40km, but it was an intriguing sight, to see the fast man, the sprinter with 160 wins across his career, to be mixing it with climbers on an Alpine stage.

The cameras don't usually show it, but what usually happens to sprinters on a day like Tuesday, is that they drop off the back of the bunch with teammates and pace themselves in. Someone is given the task of working out the time cut, and they all ride as hard as they need to in order to stay in the race.

This is what made Cavendish's choice to head up the road all the more interesting, and we assume that he headed up the road in order to gain as much time early on over the peloton in order to protect himself from being caught out from the time cut later.

However, the break he was in was never let off the leash by the peloton so the exercise proved reasonably futile. He was caught by the bunch, then dropped off the back into smaller and smaller groups. In the end, Cavendish crossed the line with just seven other riders, including two teammates.

This isn't an easy day out by any stretch of the imagination - his teammate and gruppetto colleague Pieter Serry averaged 30.3km/h across the day, according to Strava. That's 30.3km/h in a day which included over 5,000 metres of climbing. He was the slowest on the day. The mind boggles.

The gruppetto eases off the pace on the toughest climbs, to ensure that riders aren't dropping off the back, before upping speeds on descents and on the flat, all to make sure they stay within touching distance of the time cut.

Tuesday's stage was clearly a tough one, however, with the final group on the road splintering; fellow sprinter Arnaud Démare crossed the line five minutes ahead of the Cavendish group, along with other non-climbers like Phil Bauhaus and Alex Dowsett. 

The next sprinting chance doesn't come until Thursday's stage 18 to Treviso, which Cavendish will surely be thinking about winning to add to his stage win earlier from the Giro.

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl directeur sportif Davide Bramati was relieved with the result of the queen stage.

"Today was a hard stage, we are happy all guys arrived in time limit safely," he told Cycling Weekly. "Tomorrow is again a hard stage, so we will try to recover as much as possible and then we’ll see.”

After stage 16's monumental climbing, Wednesday's stage 17 has just 3,950 metres of climbing, and just two first category climbs. Easy. Don't expect Cavendish to be in the break again, but he will be battling to cross the line within the time cut.

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