Team Sky rider Mark Cavendish won a sprint finish to take the fourth stage of Tour of Britain in Blackpool and claim the leader’s gold jersey.
The 2011 world road race champion started the day with the same time as overnight leader Leigh Howard of Orica - GreenEDGE, but made sure of his second stage win after a strong lead out by Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and Luke Rowe.
A small breakaway group led the way for the majority of the 156-kilometre route from Carlisle, but they were chased down by the peloton in the closing stages, with Team Sky powering up the Promenade to secure a second successive stage win for the Manx Missile under the foot of Blackpool tower.
The breakaway quickly formed at the start of the route and opened up a six-minute gap on the peloton, with UK Youth Cycling’s Niklas Gustavsson picking up the bonus points at the first intermediate sprint at Shap ahead of Mathew Cronshaw of Node 4 and An Post’s Ronan McLaughlin.
Rapha Condor’s Kristian House, IG’s Dan Craven and Saur Sojasun’s David Lelay were also part of the six-man leading group who set the early pace.
However, the chasing peloton hit back and the leaders saw their gap slashed to three minutes.
The breakaway was then reduced to four as the course wound its way towards the seaside town, with Gustavsson and House dropped after the last King of the Mountains points dash, as ORICA-GreenEDGE and Team Sky led the chase.
Team Sky’s Wiggins stepped up the pace at the front of the peloton with 24km to go as stiff cross winds began to wreak havoc, with the increased speed causing the main pack to fracture.
Cavendish and Howard positioned themselves well and were part of the large chasing group, who slashed the gap to the leaders to 30 seconds with 15km remaining.
Ireland’s McLaughlin then made a late bid to go it alone but he has hauled back by Craven before the Team Sky-led pack hunted them down with just under 10km to go.
It set the stage perfectly for another sprint to the line for Cavendish, who crossed with ease, in what could prove to be a decisive win.
The Tour of Britain continues with tomorrow’s 147km stage around Stoke.