Mark Cavendish goes close in Giro d'Italia as Astana Qazaqstan unite again

 Mark Cavendish (center) finished third on stage 11 of the 2023 Giro d'Italia
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Mark Cavendish went close to his first victory with Astana Qazaqstan at the Giro d'Italia in Tortona, finishing third in the sprint after his teammates again protected him and guided him through the rolling stage north from Tuscany.

On Tuesday, Astana Qazaqstan worked to ensure Cavendish got back to the peloton after the long rain-soaked climb in the Apennines only for the breakaway to stay away. On Wednesday, they helped Cavendish return to the peloton after the short but steep Passo della Castagnola with 40km to race and then positioned him well for the fast slightly downhill sprint.

Cavendish came off Mads Pedersen's wheel in sight of the finish line but Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) came past on either side and finished inches ahead, a photo finish confirming Ackermann as the stage winner.

Third place was Cavendish's best result at the 2023 Giro d'Italia and equalled his third place at Scheldeprijs in April.

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"We were really motivated for today's stage. It was a nice sprint on paper, but it wasn't easy to arrive there," Cavendish said. "The way we built as a team this Giro we knew if we work together, we will get there. Vadim rode the whole day on the front, making an incredible tempo and making sure the break never got too far. And the boys looked after me in the final.

"There was a small kick when another team attacked to try to drop us, but the boys stayed with me. We were just off the pack, but we came back, we stayed together, we straight to the front and set up for the sprint. I was so motivated; the boys rode incredible for me, and I am so proud of them, and I am just sorry I couldn't finish it off," Cavendish said.

"I couldn't change anything else about the sprint. In terms of how the sprint went and how I rode it, I just got beaten by, actually, two incredible young riders, Pascal Ackermann and Jonathan Milan. So, my congratulations to Pascal."

After the finish, everyone at the Astana Qazaqstan bus was happy with their performance for a second consecutive stage. The Kazakhstani team has only won three minor races so far this season but showed their determination and skills for a second consecutive stage.

"We're close, were in the thick of the action, fighting for the win," directeur sportif Stefano Zanini told Cyclingnews with pride.

"Mark is happy with how things are going now and the other guys are happy, too, and ready to give their all for him. His big goal is the Tour de France but I think everyone can see how he's improving day after day at the Giro. Winning is hard but we hope to win soon."

Zanini quickly debriefed with Cavendish after watching a replay of the sprint on the team bus.

"Mark was right to say that he didn't do anything wrong. The team worked all day to help have a shot in the sprint and we went very close to victory," Zanini said.

"He was on the right wheels in the finale, on Jonathan Milan and then on Mads Pedersen. Cav let a small gap go so that he could launch his sprint and come out at the right time. The only problem was that Ackermann was on his wheel and slightly faster, just by a tiny bit faster. But it was close."

Cavendish appears to be on a roll, his form and confidence growing daily. Zanini was just disappointed that Thursday's stage 12 to Rivoli includes a tough 9.8km climb just 28km from the finish. On Friday, the Giro d'Italia climbs into the high Alps in Switzerland. The next sprint opportunity is perhaps on Sunday to Cassano Magnago or on stage 17 to Caorle near Venice.

"Now we're going to have suffer for a few hilly and mountain stages but we're on the up, everyone can feel that and is feeding off that," Zanini said.

"The team is going through a transformation this spring and even this week at the Giro d'Italia. It's been a difficult season so far but we're on the up now. We don't have a lead out for Mark because he only joined the team in the New Year but we've got lots of determination to work and improve."