Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) sprinted to victory on stage one of the Tour of Britain, to pull on the first leader’s jersey of this year’s race in Liverpool.
The German powerhouse delivered a phenomenal sprint into a slight headwind in the final 200 metres, holding off the challenge of Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) – who suffered a mid-race crash.
Kittel profited as Giant-Shimano, who controlled the bunch almost from start to finish, hit the front in the final kilometre.
RideLondon winner Adam Blythe (NFTO) launched early, but Kittel bolted out from the wheel of his lead-out and powered to victory, with only Ruffoni able to stick anywhere near him.
Earlier, a four-man break established from the off, with Liverpool-based rider Mark McNally (An Post Chain Reaction) taking in his home city from the front group.
Jon Mould (NFTO) and Richard Handley (Rapha Condor JLT) made it three Brits in the group, with Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF) completing the break.
Their lead quickly stretched to a minute, but the Giant-Shimano-led peloton kept the pace high throughout to keep them in check.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep also joined in the early pace-setting but Mark Cavendish was off the back at the end of the first lap after a problem with his cleat.
Cavendish took some time to adjust the problem, leading to a long chase back on lap two, but the Manxman comfortably rejoined the bunch.
Giant-Shimano stayed on the front throughout the race, joined by Omega Pharma-Quickstep, who only stopped riding after Cavendish hit the deck mid-race.
MTN-Qhubeka and Team Sky lent firepower to the chase however, to ensure Giant-Shimano did not have to do it al alone.
With the gap holding between one and two minutes, however, the break was never given any leeway.
Nevertheless, it left the four to contest the race’s first intermediate sprints and King of the Mountains points.
Colbrelli earned a clean sweep of the former, to ensure he would pull on the race’s first points jersey and also earn a nine-second time bonus.
McNally, meanwhile, ensured the home fans had plenty to celebrate as he stormed into the first Skoda KOM jersey of the race.
Their advantage up front, however, had been virtually wiped out by the start of the final lap – despite an audacious bid to join them by Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Another favourite, Steve Cummings (BMC Racing) was next to try his luck off the front as the peloton bore down on the leaders – the Liverpool-born rider earning a gap with six kilometres to go.
Handley was first of the break to return to the peloton, but the remaining three continued to hold the peloton at bay – albeit with an ever-decreasing advantage – into the final five kilometres.
Cummings was caught with little more than four kilometres to go, however, and the three leaders followed moments later, resigning themselves to their fate as the sprint trains lined out on the front on the narrow roads.
Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) hit the front as the break was swallowed up, with Team NetApp-Endura in a line behind him.
NetApp-Endura were next to take it up, but Giant-Shimano hit the front with perfect timing as the Omega Pharma-Quickstep lead out faltered.
Blythe launched from well back, jumping the bunch inside the final kilometre, but he did not have the legs to hold off the German in the wake of his stunning acceleration.
Ruffoni tried to stick with Kittel, but Cavendish was left devoid of a lead-out as he launched further back.
Kittel was pushed close, but ensured he would be celebrating his fourth stage win on Great British soil this season – following triumphs in Belfast, Harrogate and London already.
Further back Cavendish, who went to hospital post-race after injuring his leg in a mid-race crash took third, while Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) followed narrowly behind in fourth.
A late crash saw several riders hit the deck on the final run-in too, Ian Stannard (Team Sky) among the fallers, with team-mate Wiggins just avoiding it.
For now though Kittel, courtesy of his ten-second time bonus for winning, pulled on the leader’s jersey ahead of stage two, which will take the peloton into North Wales and onto the Great Orme before a fast, downhill finish.
Tour of Britain 2014: stage one – result
1) Marcel Kittel (GER) – Giant-Shimano – 2.16.35hrs
2) Nicola Ruffoni (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF – ST
3) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
4) Tyler Farrar (USA) – Garmin-Sharp
5) Ben Swift (GBR) – Team Sky
6) Barry Markus (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling
7) Dan McLay (GBR) – Great Britain
8) Heinrich Haussler (AUS) – IAM Cycling
9) Nikolay Trusov (RUS) – Tinkoff-Saxo
10) Enrique Sanz (ESP) – Movistar
1) Marcel Kittel (GER) – Giant-Shimano – 2.16.25hrs
2) Sonny Colbrelli (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF +1”
3) Nicola Ruffoni (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF +4”
4) Jon Mould (GBR) – NFTO Pro Cycling – ST
5) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +6”
6) Richard Handley (GBR) – Rapha Condor JLT +7”
7) Tyler Farrar (USA) – Garmin-Sharp +10”
8) Ben Swift (GBR) – Team Sky – ST
9) Barry Markus (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling
10) Daniel McLay (GBR) – Great Britain