It might have taken a photo finish to decide the victor of the opening stage of the Tour of Britain but Mark Cavendish knew instinctively that it wasn’t him. Etixx-QuickStep had a plethora of options for the finale and had set up the sprint perfectly, guiding him through the challenging finish and leaving the Manxman with an open road in front of him and only 100 metres to go.
Cavendish looked like he’d delivered the goods for his 11th Tour of Britain stage win but a late surge by Viviani denied him that honour. The disappointment was obvious and his bike had hardly come to a halt as he dived for his team bus. He was eventually coaxed out to accept his award as the best British rider and seemed in better form as he signed autographs and took pictures with the fans.
“I was super nervous coming into the sprint. Some of the guys who were staying near here reconned the finish yesterday and they said it was very sketchy final,” Cavendish explained afterwards. “The team were super good in setting me up. We decided to have Fernando Gaviria go first and then Mark Renshaw, but it was quite a tough sprint. I could feel the wind blowing down the final straight through the buildings.
“I felt like I kicked really well, but I could sense Greipel was there and I was perhaps too concerned with him and Elia came through on the other side. I'm pretty happy with the way it went, and especially with the work the guys did, but of course it's disappointing to lose out.”
After a show of force in today’s finale, this might be the last time in the race that we see the Etixx-QuickStep team trying to control proceedings. When Michal Kwiatkowski moved into the overall lead at last year’s race, the Belgian squad tried to do just that and were left wanting when the eventual winner Dylan van Baarle escaped up the road. With a tough parcours and small teams, trying to manage the peloton for the whole week is a big ask.
“We might have a bunch sprint in London but for sure we’re not going to work for a bunch sprint any more,” explained directeur sportive Brian Holm. "It’s just too hard to ride every day. You kill the riders. We tried last year and it wasn’t very successful and we didn’t win. The break will go and we will just have to let it go."
Etixx-QuickStep have come to the race with a strong line-up and, alongside their sprint stars, they’ve got potential overall winners in Czech champion Petr Vakoc and Zdenek Stybar, but Holm says that they’re going to have to take their chances if they want to take home the yellow jersey next Sunday.
“You never know with a race like this. Suddenly you have 20 riders from different teams with 20 minutes. It wouldn’t be the first time that this has happened. If we take the jersey, we won’t try to control the race because we can’t. We will just have to wait and see what happens,” said Holm.
The second stage of the Tour of Britain brings the riders 159km from Clitheroe to Colne and takes them over two category-one climbs and a second category.