Do not adjust your television sets. Mark Cavendish was in a breakaway at the Giro d'Italia. Not just any break, either, but an escape on the hardest day of the race, a day with 5,268 metres of climbing.
With about 180km to go on Tuesday's stage, the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider was a member of a six-man move which also included Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Nans Peters (AG2R Citröen), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Jumbo-Visma), and Christopher Juul-Jensen (Team BikeExchange-Jayco).
Cavendish is not a usual suspect for early attacks in races, let alone as tough a day as Tuesday's Giro queen stage, but it was clearly part of the plan. The Manxman was part of an escape which headed up the road just a couple of kilometres into the day, which at one point had a minute on the peloton, but was kept in check by the peloton.
Usually, the sprinter remains in the bunch, waiting for the escapees to be returned so he can tackle the bunch finish at the end of the day. In the mountains, he would normally hang on for as long as possible with the main group before dropping off the back and being part of a gruppetto which paces themselves in, aiming to finish before the time cut.
The last time he was in a break was on stage six of the Tour of Britain last year, which was unusual enough, but that wasn't a mountain-heavy day in the Giro.
One must assume that Cavendish 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.
On Eurosport/GCN, expert co-commentator Sean Kelly said that "it's all about Cavendish getting ahead here", while his colleague Adam Blythe could hardly believe it, saying "who'd have thought it?"
If he had time over the GC contenders once the race hits the first climb, then he had more time that he can afford to lose over the rest of the stage, effectively. Another reason for the early escape might be that he wished to spin his legs out after the rest day yesterday, to make sure he was in his best climbing form to get through the mountains.
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.
Van der Poel's presence in the break was also an intriguing one, alongside some more expected breakaway specialists like De Gendt and Peters, both former Grand Tour mountain stage winners. Perhaps the Dutchman was copying Cavendish, or maybe he really thinks he can have an impact on Tuesday's stage.
After about 40km out front, Cavendish was swallowed up by further attacks and then the peloton, while other sprinters like Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) were already dropped, proving that his early plan had worked. Now to see if he will make the time cut.
Is attack the best form of defence? Mark Cavendish and Mathieu van der Poel are in the break for today's stage... 5,260 metres of climbing today #Giro pic.twitter.com/SJADs7Z5YXMay 24, 2022
🍍Should pineapple on pizza be added before or after baking? We are asking for a friend.🍍L'ananas sulla pizza ci va prima o dopo la cottura? Chiediamo per un amico.#Giro @AlpecinFenix - @mathieuvdpoel pic.twitter.com/rLZaSyMTsfMay 24, 2022
Cavendish in a breakaway on the Giro's Queen stage with over 5,000m of climbing...#Giro🇮🇹 pic.twitter.com/fmum4z3NVLMay 24, 2022
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