Mark Cavendish (Sky) made it two stages in a row at the Tour of Britain after another sprint finish rounded off a torrid day in the North of England.
The Manxman had to improvise in Blackpool as Luke Rowe powered into the final few hundred metres but had the guile to slip behind Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge) and the gusto to ease past him in the finale.
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Team Sky had earlier split the peloton as fierce crosswinds tore across the flat lands on the approach to the seaside town, leaving around 25 to contest the finish. Although most of Cavendish’s main rivals made the split, none were able to come close.
Cavendish also picked up the race leader’s gold jersey, despite his claims yesterday that he’d prefer to wear his rainbow stripes for a few more days.
Perhaps fortunately, once he’s wrung his kit dry, tomorrow’s tough and testing stage around Stoke-on-Trent will see whether he’s got the ability to keep hold of it for the rest of the week.
Welcome to Britain
The Tour of Britain has been treated to a typical British summer in 2012. We’ve had gorgeous sunshine in Ipswich, murky gloom in Knowsley, and bone-chilling rain in Dumfries.
Awaiting the race as it made its journey South from Carlisle were buffeting winds and lashing rain, perturbing riders and journalists alike.
Nevertheless the conditions were nothing more than another day at work for some of the British-based riders. Kristian House (Rapha-Condor-Sharp) thrived in the horizontal rain and standing water to make his third break of the race, sweeping up the King of the Mountains points in the process to tighten his grip on the jersey.
He was joined by Ronan McLaughlin (An Post), Matt Cronshaw (Node4-Giordana), Niklas Gustavsson (UK-Youth), David Lelay (Saur-Sojasun) and the hirsute Dan Craven (IG-Sigma) who managed to stay away until 15km to go.
McLaughlin tried his hand twice more but the sustained tempo of the Sky train was simply too strong. His efforts did however bring him the day’s combativity prize, and the quotidian wheel of cheese that comes with it from sponsors Rouleur.
It was a mighty sight to see the enormous Sky riders, all over six foot, at full speed with the seemingly minuscule Endura riders of Russ Downing and Jon Tiernan-Locke buzzing around the front of the bunch like birds on a buffalo’s back.
Endura maintained the pressure on Sky but the WorldTour team’s experience, endurance and comfort at such high speeds meant they were never seriously troubled. The win makes it three wins in four attempts at this year’s race for the men in black and blue.
Tour of Britain 2012, stage four: Carlisle to Blackpool, 156.0km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky
2. Steele Von Hoff (Aus) Garmin-Sharp
3. Leigh Howard (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Boy Van Poppel (Ned) UnitedHealthcare
5. Daniel Schorn (Aut) Team NetApp
6. Russell Downing (GBr) Endura Racing
7. Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Team UK-Youth
8. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Garmin-Sharp
9. Rony Martias (Fra) Saur-Sojasun
10. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky
Overall classification after stage four
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky
2. Leigh Howard (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge at 6 secs
3. Boy Van Poppel (Ned) UnitedHealthcare at 14 secs
4. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky s.t.
5. Rony Martias (Fra) Saur-Sojasun at 20 secs
6. Steele Von Hoff (Aus) Garmin-Sharp s.t.
7. Russell Downing (GBr) Endura Racing at 22 secs
8. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Garmin-Sharp at 26 secs
9. Nathan Haas (Aus) Garmin-Sharp s.t.
10. Yanto Barker (GBr) UK-Youth at 27 secs
Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Jeremy Hunt
Escape group at Plumpton
Break at Shap
Mark Cavendish wins
Mark Cavendish takes the lead