Mark Cavendish paid tribute to the efforts of Bradley Wiggins and his Sky team on stage 4 of the Tour of Britain as the world champion claimed stage honours and the overall lead. Cavendish proved too quick for Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) and Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge) in the sprint finish, to take his second successive stage win.
Sky seized the initiative as the race entered the final 25 kilometres on exposed roads on the windswept run-in to the finish on Blackpool Promenade, and Cavendish explained that Wiggins’ local knowledge proved invaluable.
“Bradley [Wiggins] lives not far from Blackpool and the route included a lot of the roads he uses for training,” Cavendish said. “He told us it was very open, and very windy, and he knew the exact place we should go on the attack. It was the perfect call.”
Sky’s forcing in the crosswinds saw the front end of the peloton whittled down to fewer than 30 riders, but with Jonathan Tiernan-Locke among them, Endura Racing were willing to contribute to the pace-making in the finale.
"It was a grim day but we ploughed through and waited until that moment 22km from home to split things apart, and although it was difficult to do that with a small team, the fact Endura were riding as well made it easier,” Cavendish said.
The last survivors of the day’s early break were swept up inside the final 8 kilometres, and on the approach to Blackpool, Sky tried to engineer a scenario that would allow Luke Rowe to go clear and steal a march in the overall standings. When he was reeled back in, however, Cavendish was on hand to take the sprint with considerable ease, careering off overall leader Howard’s wheel 200 metres from the line.
“On those last 5km along the front we just made it so fast that nobody else could get close to us,” Cavendish said. “We’d expected a crosswind, but in the end it felt like a tailwind, and we were flying. Luke’s going for the overall so we tried to let him get a bit of a gap like the other day, but then Leigh Howard jumped so I had to go with him, and then it was quite straightforward for me in the sprint.”
Cavendish now leads the Tour of Britain overall by 6 seconds from Howard, with Boy van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) a further 8 seconds back in third. He insisted that he harboured no overall ambitions of his own and was simply looking to enjoy his final days in the rainbow jersey.
“I’m really happy to have gone into the lead, and although I can’t see myself keeping the jersey, we’d like to keep it in the team,” said Cavendish, who hinted that Luke Rowe would be the man to lead Sky’s challenge. "I’ve only got a few days left in the rainbow jersey now, so I’d like to wear that again as well."
Speaking on the eve of the Tour of Britain, Cavendish compared his rapport with Sky to "a long-distance relationship" and hinted that he would part company with the team at the end of the season.