Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) made it two stage wins in succession for the home nation at the Tour of Britain, piping Italian Elia Viviani (Cannondale) on the line in a close-fought bunch sprint.
In a good stage all-round for British riders, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) finished safely in the bunch to hold onto his gold jersey, having defended attacks from Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp).
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However, the main drama of the day involved the touch-and-go race between the bunch and the initial escape group. Eleven riders – including Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), king of the mountains leader Angel Madrozo (Movistar) and Alistair Slater (Great Britain), the highest rider on the GC present – went clear early on, and still held a lead of around two minutes going into the final 15 kilometres.
Their lead was reduced from the attacks of the Garmin riders Bauer and Martin on the category three Pen-y-Pass around 10 kilometres from the finish, but as the race entered its endgame the break still harboured hopes of hanging on.
It was not until just one kilometre from the line that the break was finally caught, following a flurry of ultimately fruitless attacks from riders in the escape. Then the race became all about the run-up to the final bunch sprint.
Cavendish has veteran Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma) to thank for delivering an impressive lead out, which put the Manx Missile in a strong position to sprint for the stage win. Italian Viviani was close behind but never looked quick enough to pass Cavendish, while Garmin’s Steele Von Hoff finished third, despite nearly falling off at the finish line after clipping Viviani’s wheel.
The win was Cavendish’s 17th of the season and his first at this year’s Tour of Britain, but he won’t be adding to his tally tomorrow as the race takes on the hills of Wales, including two ascents of Caerphilly Mountain. Expect Bradley Wiggins’ lead to come under attack. Stage five full preview>>
Tour of Britain 2013, stage four: Stoke-on-Trent to Llanberis, 188.4km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
2. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale
3. Steele Von Hoff (Aus) Garmin-Sharp
4. Matteo Pelucchi (Ita) IAM Cycling
5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar
6. Owain Doull (GBr) Great Britain
7. Evaldas Siskevicius (Ltu) Sojasun
8. Scott Thwaites (GBr) NetApp-Endura
9. Chris Opie (GBr) UK Youth
10. Sam Bennett (Irl) AN Post-Chain Reaction all same timeall same time
Overall classification after stage four
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky in 16-11-36
2. Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky at 37 secs
3. Martin Elmiger (Sui) IAM Cycling at 47 secs
4. Jack Bauer (NZl) Garmin-Sharp at 55 secs
5. Alex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar at 57 secs
6. David Lopez (Spa) Sky at 1-17
7. Michal Golas (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 1-18
8. Sergio Pardilla (Spa) MTN Qhubeka at 1-18
9. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN Qhubeka at 1-21
10. Alexander Wetterhall (Swe) NetApp-Endura at 1-21
Bradley Wiggins at the start
Mark Cavendish wins the stage
Mark Cavendish celebrates