Mark Cavendish clinches first race leader's jersey in four years at Coppi e Bartali after switching teams for 2021

MARK CAVENDISH has clinched his first race leader's jersey in four years as clinched top spot in Italian stage race Coppi e Bartali.

The Tour de France legend, 35, last led a stage race at the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour.

In a rare format for one day on the road, riders had two stages to tackle.

Cavendish finished a narrow second in a sprint to Jakub Mareczko of the Vini Zabu team in a 60-mile stage 1a in Gatteo.

They then tackled a 6.7-mile team time trial, where Deceuninck-QuickStep grabbed third spot, putting Cav in the overall lead.

That stage was won by Israel Start-Up Nation, propelled by Essex rider Alex Dowsett, who sits two seconds behind Cavendish in the overall standings in second.

The riders have 101 miles of road on Tuesday as they take on stage two from Ricione to Sogliano al Rubicone, with three more days' riding after that.

It was just the tonic for the former Team Sky rider and 2011 world road race champ, who has had a difficult time with the Epistein-Barr virus and bravely revealed last year he has gone through bout of depression – but has had help to come through it.

Cavendish announced his return to Deceuninck-QuickStep in December, the team he rode for between 2013 and 2015.

He then went to Team Dimension Data where he won four Tour de France stages in 2016, including a stint in the Yellow Jersey after clinching stage one.

Cavendish said: "Two podiums in a day and the leader’s jersey here, it’s not too bad.

"Though we just missed the wins, I am extremely proud of our five-man group here.

"The lads looked after me in the morning and I was disappointed not to repay their hard work with a victory.

"But then, in the afternoon, we committed against the odds in the team time trial.

"I couldn’t be happier to at least get to lead the race after day one, especially as it’s the first time in four years that I lead a stage race."

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