There are only a handful of stages on this Giro d'Italia that are tailor-made for Mark Cavendish, so after this run through Puglia he had no option but to deliver, hence his delight at the 12th Giro stage win of his career following disappointment the day before.
This was as seamless as any bunch sprint win could be, apart from the almost inevitable brush of shoulders in the last kilometre.
Cavendish's Omega Pharma-Quickstep squad controlled the racing for most of the day, with some help from the Française des Jeux team, who boast an up-and‑coming sprinter in the form of the French champion Nacer Bouhanni. Cavendish feels under pressure when his team take it on in this way, but he also thrives on that stress, and after a hectic finale he was perfectly delivered by the Belgian Gert Steegmans, who emerged in the final 300m, with Cavendish on his wheel until the final 100m.
Whether or not he is at his best form, if he has a clear run to the line that close in it is virtually impossible for any other sprinter to come round him, and Bouhanni and the Italian Elia Viviani scrabbled in his wake as so many have in the five years since the Manxman emerged – at the 2008 Giro – as a force to be reckoned with in any flat finish.
"It's incredible," said Cavendish, who has not had perfect service from the leadout train at OPQS, who he joined this season from Sky. "Nothing went wrong, everyone rode until their legs had no more." He compared setting up his new train to "building a sports car, you start with all the bits and pieces, and when everything fits together you go faster than all the others. I'm the exhaust – I'm the last part and I make the most noise." On a quieter note he dedicated his win to the Belgian Wouter Weylandt, who died in a crash in this race two years ago to the day.
No stage on the Giro is ever totally tranquillo; Thursday's incident was a massive pile-up, which split the bunch and completely blocked the road as they passed through the finish line for the first time before tackling two 16km circuits. Because the crash took place in a barriered section of road, there was no way for the riders caught behind the crash to get past the pile of bodies and bikes whereas on an open road, they will take to the verges or even the fields to get moving again.
Bradley Wiggins would not normally have been at the back of the field this late in the stage, but when the crash happened he had stopped to change his bike. He lost a minute on the peloton before he got going, and it took him and five team-mates about 10km of frantic effort before they regained contact.
To make the point that he was not going to get caught again, he immediately put his Sky team-mates at the front alongside Cavendish's "train", but by the final few kilometres he was on his own, so he led the bunch with 2.5km to go. It is unusual to see a Tour favourite expending energy in this way at over 55km/h, and it reflected his fraying nerves as much the power in his legs.
Thursday's challenge was made for the sprinters, but Friday offers a contrast, being mainly inland through the Abruzzo hills. Only four of the climbs carry points for the king of the mountains prize, but there are too many other ascents to count. It is brutal stuff, a classic "pitfall" stage, where something predictably unpredictable is almost bound to happen.
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