Plenty at stake in Giro d'Italia opener

Mark Cavendish is hoping to land the maglia rosa designed by friend and fashion mogul Paul Smith. Pascal Pavani/Getty Images

NAPLES, Italy -- There was no shortage of handshakes and hugs at the regal Piazza Plebiscito -- the site of Friday's Giro d'Italia team presentation, which doubled as a reunion of sorts for the pro peloton -- but perhaps no embrace had more star power that between pro cycling's top sprinter and one of the world's premier fashion designers.

Former world champion Mark Cavendish, of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, and Sir Paul Smith, of the eponymously named fashion brand, are close friends, and on Saturday, they may well be united again during the Giro's first podium presentation.

Smith, once an aspiring racer and a lifelong cycling fan, designed this year's four jerseys -- white (best young rider), blue (climber), red (points) and pink (general classification) -- produced by Italian apparel company Santini.

He would love nothing more than to present the maglia rosa to Cavendish after Saturday's first stage, a flat, 130-kilometer circuit along the coast in Naples, which will almost certainly end in a field sprint, and award the race's first overall leader.

"If Mark wins, I'd love to present the jersey," Smith told VeloNews. "I think there's a little plan to do that, but who knows? I don't think I'm allowed to say. Oops."

Cavendish, who has won 10 Giro stages and worn the pink jersey on two occasions, said during a press conference on Thursday that a stage win in Naples was his first objective.

"For sure it would be a dream to take the pink jersey on the first stage," he said. "It's a nice circuit here in Napoli. The more laps there are, the more of a chance I have to look at it during the race. Of course, there are a lot of corners and cobblestones that can make it a little more challenging, but I think it should be ok."

On Friday Cavendish acknowledged that receiving the maglia rosa from Smith on Saturday would take on extra meaning. "It would be special," Cavendish said, "but just to see Paul here is nice. We're good friends."

Smith, who brought a pink top as a gift for Cavendish's 13-month-old daughter, Delilah Grace, quickly added, "The main thing about our friendship is that it's just that, a friendship."

Cavendish's partner, Peta Todd, said that the Giro is "a race that Mark holds dear," adding, "He loves racing in Italy, and he always wants to win, but it's very prestigious to wear the maglia rosa. It would be lovely to have Paul present the jersey. In an ideal world, it would be perfect."

Other pro cyclists that Smith calls friends include British riders Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and David Millar (Garmin-Sharp), and the significance that Wiggins is targeting an overall victory at this year's Giro wasn't lost on Smith.

"It's a difficult one, tomorrow, because all the teams are so excited to try to take the jersey," he said. "It's not a foregone conclusion whether [Cavendish] will win tomorrow. But it's certainly a possibility that in three weeks time, we could see Bradley wearing pink, and Mark in red."

In terms of his designs for this year's jerseys, Smith said more than anything, he aimed to "keep it simple."

"It's quite hard to design, there's not a lot you can do -- it's pink, or red, or blue, or white, and then obviously you have the sponsors, so I just kept it really simple," Smith said. "The previous jersey had diagonal lines from the neck, and that doesn't really work; it makes everyone look like they don't have strong shoulders. So I got rid of those, kept it really simple and put some interesting piping in -- red with the pink, and a different color blue with the blue. It's quite interesting, it looks quite pop, like a Warhol or something."

The new shirts have been in the works since 2012, but just reached the public eye in late April. Smith said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"I designed the jerseys last year, but they were launched in London just last week," he added. "Here in Naples, I had a coffee with Santini, and they said they've never had a jersey which had so much popularity across Europe and in Asia, which is great to hear, that people seem to like it."