By Alasdair Fotheringham
MARGHERITA DI SOVOIA, Italy (Reuters) - Britain's Mark Cavendish captured his 99th professional win on Thursday in the Giro d'Italia with a faultlessly executed bunch sprint victory ahead of Italy's Elia Viviani and Australian Matthew Goss.
Home rider Luca Paolini, who rides for the Katusha team, retained his 17-second overall lead over Colombian Rigoberto Uran.
Cavendish clinched his second stage win of the 2013 race, his 12th Giro stage win of his career and 38th victory in a Grand Tour.
Asked if he now considered himself the greatest sprinter of all time, Cavendish shrugged his shoulders and told reporters: "I just want to go on winning races.
"It's not about numbers or whatever. When I stop we'll see what happens after that."
Cavendish praised his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team for "pedaling to support me until their legs fell off, they were superb."
As for the last team mate to guide him in the closing meters, Belgian Geert Steegmans, Cavendish added: "he's probably one of the best lead-out men there's ever been.
"Everything went 100 percent perfect, I've won two stages in two bunch sprints, it's all going to plan."
Cavendish's fellow Briton, Bradley Wiggins, had a comparatively fraught day after he was blocked behind a mass crash with 32 kilometers to go.
Already delayed by a bike change, Wiggins and four Sky team-mates had to chase hard to regain contact with the peloton, which notably eased its speed in order to wait for the British contender.
Wiggins, in sixth place, remains 34 seconds behind Paolini.
"Nobody went full gas," said Cavendish, who was in the front group.
"I'm going to stick my neck out for all the teams, there was talk about carrying on riding, but in fact we all waited.
"If I'd have crashed, they might not have, I lost the lead in this race in 2009 for that reason. But this time, we waited."
On the second anniversary of the death of Wouter Weylandt, the Belgian rider who was killed in a downhill crash in the 2011 Giro, Cavendish held up Weylandt's race number on the podium in his honor.
"It's a very hard day for us, he's always in our thoughts," Cavendish said.
After Thursday's flat dash up Italy's eastern coastline, Friday sees the main contenders battle their way through almost 4,500 meters of vertical climbing on a stage running through the Abruzzo hills.
(Editing by Justin Palmer)