Mark Cavendish claimed his fourth win of the 96th Giro d'Italia on Friday after sprinting to victory in the 13th stage, at 254 km the longest of the race, from Busseto to Cherasco.

Italian Vincenzo Nibali remained in the race leader's pink jersey with Australia's Cadel Evans in second place at 41secs.

Earlier, top favourite Bradley Wiggins and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal pulled out of the race due to illness.

Unstoppable

Cavendish, a former world champion from the Isle of Man, took his 13th win from five editions on the Giro on Thursday.

A number of teams, including Australians Orica-GreenEdge, whose top sprinter is Matt Goss, had hoped to stop the Manxman dominating again on one of the last remaining chances for the non-climbers.

However their top finisher was Goss's lead-out man, Brett Lancaster, who finished in fourth, ahead of Italian Elia Viviani.

After Viviani's Cannondale team had taken over the fast pace-setting in the final kilometre Cavendish began his sprint early but held on to keep Italian Giacomo Nizzolo and Slovenian Luka Mezgec off his wheel at the finish line.

Earlier, a seven-man breakaway enjoyed a lead of nearly 14 minutes after escaping from the peloton at the 21km mark.

However efforts by Goss and Cavendish's respective teams soon ate into their sizeable advantage, with Spaniard Pablo Lastras the last rider from that escape to be caught with 15km to race by a small counter-attacking group.

Italian Giampaolo Caruso managed to attack solo from the new lead group with around 6.5 km remaining but was reeled in with 1.5 km left of the 4km home straight.

Cavendish, who turns 28 next week, now has 14 Giro wins, 23 Tour de France wins and three stage wins from the Tour of Spain.

On Saturday's 14th stage the race heads into the high mountains for a 168 km run between Cervere and Bardonecchia, with the finish line at the end of a 7.3 km ascent to Jafferau, where Belgian legend Eddy Merckx prevailed on the Giro's last visit, in 1972.

Source: AFP