Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) pipped Elia Viviani (Cannondale) on the line after a long attack on the uphill finish in Guildford to win stage seven of the 2013 Tour of Britain.
With his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team-mates leading the peloton under the flamme rouge, the Manxman launched an attack from the front of the bunch and had just enough in his legs to beat Viviani to his second stage win of this year’s Tour.
Meanwhile Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) will head into tomorrow’s final stage in pole position to win the gold jersey after coming through the penultimate stage unscathed.
Wiggins remained safely in the bunch, with his Sky team-mates around him, and with none of his GC rivals making a break they were even afforded the luxury of having others control the peloton throughout the stage.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) – who has seen several late attacks come to nothing this week – was unable to make an early break stick and from then on Sky appeared untroubled.
Nevertheless, despite a decent pace being set by the peloton out of Epsom, Kristian House (Rapha Condor JLT), Pete Williams (IG Sigma Sport), Serge Laborie (Sojasun) and Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthCare) broke clear.
No stranger to the breaks this year, House crossed the category two climb of Crocknorth Road first to move into second place in the Skoda King of the Mountains classification – although Angel Madrazo (Movistar) had already amassed an unassailable lead for the jersey.
The Spaniard also led the sprints classification prior to the stage, but Williams – who like House has featured in several escapes already – began to make inroads into his lead by winning the sprint into Dorking.
With no let-up in the climbing in the early part of the stage, House crested the second King of the Mountains summit – Coldharbour Lane – first as the group built up a lead in excess of 3’30”.
Cannondale and Omega Pharma-Quickstep signalled their ambitions for a stage win from the start, sending riders to help at the front of the bunch, while George Atkins (Great Britain) also put in a shift driving the peloton.
Williams, meanwhile, moved to second in the Yodel Direct Sprints Classification as he led the escapees through the sprint at Cranleigh with the lead stretching to closer to four minutes.
That came down slightly on the day’s final climb – the category one ascent of Barhatch Lane, which House crested first – and there was no let-up in pace in the bunch as they touched 80kmh on the speedy descent.
The gap continued to fall steadily but not before Williams ensured he will start tomorrow’s stage just five points behind Madrazo in the sprints classification by leading the escapees through the intermediate sprint in Woking.
Over the lumpy but uncategorised second half of the route, the sprint teams ensured the four-man break remained at a manageable distance in front without wanting to bring the race back together too soon.
The popularity of this year’s Tour was highlighted on the approach to Farnham as a newly-wed couple were spotted cheering the peloton as it passed through the country roads.
Further up the road, the four-man break continued to give their sponsors some exposure but as Guildford drew closer it always remained a case of when, not if, they were caught.
And so it proved as the sprint teams eventually dropped the hammer and closed in on the escapees with 14km remaining.
Shem Rodgers (Node 4 Giordana Racing) attacked from the front of the bunch with the four leaders in sight but he was quickly caught before the race was brought back together in the final six kilometres.
Alex Dowsett (Movistar) was first to try an attack off the front, but he was quickly caught as the pace at the front of the bunch increased further.
Cavendish’s attack looked like it too had been mistimed, as Viviani almost beat him on the line but the Manx Missile outlined why he is regarded as the world’s finest sprinter by powering to victory.
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Tour of Britain – stage seven result
1 Mark Cavendish (GBR) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 3:56.57
2 Elia Viviani (ITA) Cannondale -ST
3 Gerald Ciolek (GER) MTN-Qhubeka
4 Jarc Blaz (SVN) Team Net App Endura
5 Jacob Rathe (USA) Garmin-Sharp
6 Matteo Pelucchi(ITA) IAM Cycling
7 Chris Opie (GBR) Team UK Youth
8 Martin Elmiger (SUI) IAM Cycling
9 Alessandro Bazzana (ITA) UnitedHealthCare
10 Sam Bennett (IRL) AN Post Chain Reaction
1 Sir Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Sky Procycling 27:57.59
2 Martin Elmiger (SUI) IAM Cycling +26″
3 Simon Yates (GBR) Great Britain +1’06”
4 David Lopez (ESP) Sky Procycling +1’08”
5 Sergio Pardilla (ESP) MTN-Qhubeka +1’16”
6 Jack Bauer (NZL) Garmin-Sharp +1’19”
7 Ian Stannard (GBR) Sky Procycling +1’34”
8 Michal Golas (POL) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1’36”
9 Sebastien Reichenbach (SUI) IAM Cycling +1’42”
10 Nairo Quintana (COL) Movistar +1’56”