(CNN) -- Bradley Wiggins is hot favorite for overall victory, but Mark Cavendish will be keeping the race leader's Maglia Rosa jersey warm for his fellow countryman after a blistering finish to win the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia Saturday.
Cavendish came with a late charge on the seafront in Naples to pip home rider Elia Viviani of the Cannondale team on the line.
Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni was third in the 130km opener around the southern Italian city.
It was a reminder, if any was needed, of Cavendish's incredible finishing speed as he claimed his 11th Giro stage victory and his first in a Grand Tour for new team Omega Pharma Quick Step.
The 27-year-old had to do it the hard way as lead out man Gert Steegmans had a mechanical problem in the final kilometer and Cavendish was left to make up a small gap before unleashing his late burst.
Viviani was left thumping his handlebars in frustration at such a near miss while Cavendish acknowledged it had been a hard fought win.
"That was a difficult, difficult stage for me. The team were incredible in staying in front but we didn't get it right at the end.
"It's cost us a lot recently but I managed to come round and win. I really wanted that so badly.
He will take an eight second time bonus lead over Viviani, with Bouhanni 12 seconds behind, into Sunday's 17.5km team time trial on the island of Ischia.
Cavendish spent a single season with Wiggins at Team Sky last season, claiming the final stage of the Tour de France as his teammate made history by becoming the first Briton to win the historic race.
But with Sky placing the emphasis on riders like Wiggins and Chris Froome in winning the overall classification at races such as the Tour and Giro, he left to join Omega in the close season.
Wiggins and his Sky team will be expected to make their move on Sunday's stage.
The reigning Tour de France champion finished safely in the bunch, which split after a late crash, leaving Cavendish and a clutch of other sprint specialists to fight out the finish.
Canada's Ryder Hesjedal of the Garmin-Sharp team is the defending champion at the Giro with Astana's Vincenzo Nibali carrying the main home hopes.