Blue skies and warm weather greeted the cyclists on the 169km Stage Six, the ride from Mola Di Bari to Margherita Di Savoia. And when the day's breakaway, with Cannondale Pro Cycling's Cameron Wurf and Orica-Greenedge's Jack Bobridge, scooted off the front 15km in, the field gave them ample leash.
The twosome quickly rode to a 6:14 gap, and the field, cognizant of the fatiguing previous two days, kept riding along at a relatively slow pace, at stately, for a flat road, pace of 37kph.
With several top sprinters in the field, including Wurf's teammate Elia Viviani and Bobridge's teammate Matt Goss, few were willing to let the break ride off with the day, and eventually the field got back to work, and teams took turns eating into the break's lead, and they were absorbed with 36.5km left to race.
Wurf gobbled up both intermediate sprints, and Viviani led the field for both of those sprints, catapulting Viviani into the virtual lead in the points jersey competition.
As the stage finished with two 16.2km circuits around Marghaerita Di Savoia, the racers got a preview of the finish en route. And the preview was a disaster. Narrow roads, tight turns, and a moment's inattention led to a crash that stopped a good two-thirds of the peloton with 33km remaining. It took almost 10km for those stopped by the crash to catch back up, but once they did, it was game on once again.
With riders cognizant of the dangers coming towards the finish, the race sped up, as riders fought to get to the front and stay there.
Coming into the final kilometers, the sprinter's teams fought for position alongside the squads of overall contenders, with race favorite Brad Wiggins of Team Sky, who lost time due to bad position a few days ago, taking the lead himself to keep out of trouble.
Wiggins swung off, with Orica-Greenedge and Cannondale ready to go as the final kilometer approached. Argos-Shimano rushed by for John Degenkolb. Then FdJ passed them for their guy, French National Champ Nacer Bouhanni. But Omega Pharma-Quickstep's Geert Steegmans was patiently moving up with his sprinter Mark Cavendish on his wheel, and Viviani behind him. Cavendish launched and Viviani matched his burst. With the finish approaching, Viviani moved left to pass Cav', and stayed there. With the Manxman taking the win and Viviani holding on for second. The finish placing put Cav' back in the lead in the points competition, with Viviani only six points behind in second place.
This time, Viviani acknowledged the difficulty of his predicament. "It as another big chance today. But with Cavendish, there was nothing more I could do. There was lots of confusion before the sprint, so getting into position was hard. I can't regret anything: I had great support from the team, good position, and good legs. Beating Cavendish is hard, but I won't give up the challenge of winning a stage at this Giro. Today was confirmation that my legs are good and now it's just finding the right way to victory."
There's only a small chance that he'll find that win tomorrow, as Stage Seven, a 177km ride from Marino San Salvo to Pescara throws a more difficult parcours just before the first big rendezvous of the race, the Stage Eight time trial. The race goes up and down all day without facing big mountains. A breakaway could stick, but the teams of the overall contenders will be vigilant in the fear that another contender will steal time. This tension will play into the hands of stage hunters like those on Cannondale Pro Cycling. But everyone will have to be ready, as there's no predicting when the winning move will leave the station.
Giro d'Italia 2013
Mola Di Bari to Marghaerita Di Savoia 169km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step in 3:56:03
2. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling at same time
3. Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge same time
4. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ same time
5. Mattia Gavazzi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli same time
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
31. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) same time
53. Damiano Caruso (Ita) same time
94. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) same time
98. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) same time
100. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) same time
112. Cameron Wurf (Aus) same time
122. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) same time
159. Alan Marangoni (Ita) same time
1. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha 23:52:42
2. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 00:00:17
3. Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:26
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 00:00:31
5. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp 00:00:34
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
35. Damiano Caruso (Ita) 00:02:38
44. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 00:03:04
67. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) 00:11:35
78. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 00:15:27
95. Elia Viviani (Ita) 00:25:28
98. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 00:25:56
120. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 00:30:45
133. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) 00:32:33
154. Alan Marangoni (Ita) 00:38:28