Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) hailed the British fans after marking his Tour of Britain debut with stage one victory and the first gold jersey of this year’s race.
The German outsprinted Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF) with a powerful kick at the end of the Liverpool circuit, celebrating his fourth victory in the United Kingdom this year after triumphs in Belfast, Harrogate and London already.
And though he admitted maintaining his form over a season which began nearly nine months ago can be difficult, he insists enjoying riding has been key.
“I am really happy to see all the fans here and to get the warm welcome,” he said. “It’s been pretty successful here for me.
“Maintaining form over the season is hard, I won’t lie about that. I started nine months ago at the Tour Down Under.
“I have definitely had ups and downs and the main target for the season for me, the Tour de France, is now over.
“It’s really just about keeping fresh and enjoying the time – sometimes I go mountain biking and just have fun with the team and not be too serious.”
A flat, circuitous opening stage in Liverpool ended with a chaotic bunch sprint, with a crash inside the final kilometre bringing several riders down.
This followed an earlier incident, which had seen Omega Pharma-Quickstep duo Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw take a tumble as they chased back on to the bunch after a comfort break.
Devoid of his lead-out, Cavendish could only sprint to third – despite admitting to his team’s website he had not intended sprinting at all.
And Kittel admitted he was grateful to his own lead-out man, Tom Veelers, for an almost perfect delivery into the final 200 metres.
“It was pretty messy at the end but luckily we took the decision at the start of the race to stay right,” he explained.
“To start with I thought perhaps it was the wrong decision because we were a long way back and there were not too many gaps, but then there was a crash on the left which allowed us to move up.
“Tom Veelers did a really good job keeping me out of the wind so I could save myself for the sprint and that made it possible.
“It’s so important to have riders like that. I’ve said it many times before, it is a team effort. It is almost impossible to win if you are on your own.”
Kittel also admitted having just six riders in the team also made for hard work in the bunch, particularly when Omega Pharma-Quickstep stopped pulling on the front with them after Cavendish’s crash.
“It is hard work to control the race with six-man teams,” he admitted. “You can only really use two riders on the front.
“We saw when Mark crashed, his team stopped riding for a bit and we were lucky that Sky helped us otherwise it would have been hard work to bring the break back.”
Bring it back they did, however, allowing Kittel to take victory number 12 for the season and pull on the gold jersey, which he will wear for stage two from Knowsley Safari Park to Llandudno.