Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) edged out Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) in a sprint finish at Knowsley Safari Park to win stage two of the Tour of Britain.
Cavendish’s leadout man Luke Rowe claimed victory on stage one after the Manx Missile crashed in final kilometre but Team Sky reverted to Plan A for stage two.
But Cavendish was forced to settle for second after being pipped to the line by Howard, who secured his first victory of 2012. Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) finished third to move into the overall lead.
Howard said: “I feel a huge sense of relief. It’s been a long season looking for a win. I’ve tried time and time again. I knew I had made a step forward in terms of my strength this year, and it’s taken this long to finally see the results.”
Six riders went clear early in the stage, including Pete Williams (Node4-Giordana) and Jack Bobridge (Orica-GreenEDGE), who would ended the day with the sprints jersey and combativity prize respectively.
Bobridge, part of the Australian team pursuit quartet defeated by Great Britain at the Olympic Games, attacked his breakaway companions with 50km remaining and only Williams was able to follow, with the four remaining escapees consumed by the peloton.
The duo opened up a two minute advantage but, with the peloton closing in, the pair sat up and shook hands before being caught by the marauding bunch.
A number of riders attacked in the closing stages and Marcin Bialoblocki (Node4-Giordana) stayed away until the closing three kilometres.
Team Sky took control in the finale, with Christian Knees and Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins both setting the pace at the front of a strung-out peloton before Rowe took up leadout duties.
However, with a little under a kilometre still to go and with only one team-mate remaining, Cavendish, who is expected to leave Team Sky at the end of the season, opted to drop back a handful of places to use his rivals’ slipstream ahead of the final sprint but the world champion was resigned to second place.
“With 600m to go I led into it with Cav in my wheel,” said Rowe. “He said he wanted to try and let me go and slip a few wheels back. We knew there was a bit of a dip and he’d use the run.
“Unfortunately on that dip the riders switched from right to left and he got a bit chopped up. Cav’s shown how fast he was in that finish. It’s frustrating but you could see how fast he was coming up at the finish.”
Tour of Britain stage two – result
1) Leigh Howard (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 4:31:09
2) Mark Cavendish (GBR)- Team Sky – same time
3) Boy Van Poppel (NED) – UnitedHealthcare
4) Steele Von Hoff (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp
5) Russell Downing (GBR) – Endura Racing
6) Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) – Garmin-Sharp
7) Wesley Kreder (NED) – Vacansoleil-DCM
8) Nathan Haas (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp
9) Sam Bennett (IRL) – An Post-Sean Kelly +1″
10) Luke Rowe (GBR) – Team Sky
1) Boy Van Poppel (NED) – UnitedHealthcare – 9:22:04 hours
2) Leigh Howard (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – same time
3) Luke Rowe (GBR) – Team Sky +1″
4) Rony Martias (FRA) – Saur-Sojasun +4″
5) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Team Sky – same time
6) Russell Downing (GBR) – Endura Racing +6″
7) Steele Von Hoff (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp +10″
8) Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) – Garmin-Sharp – same time
9) Nathan Haas (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp – same time
10) Peter Hawkins (IRL) – IG-Sigma Sport +11″