Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) sprinted to victory in Llanberis for his first stage win of the 2013 Tour of Britain, taking his overall tally in his home race to eight.
The Manx Missile timed his attack to perfection after an 11-man break, which had looked like going all the way, was caught by the peloton as it passed beneath the flamme rouge.
With the sprint trains hastily forming, team-mate Alessandro Petacchi led out the Manxman before Cavendish took the wheel of Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling), passing him and outsprinting stage one winner, Elia Viviani (Cannondale).
Racing in his British champion’s jersey, Cavendish’s victory delighted the large crowd in North West Wales, who were further boosted by Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) retaining his gold jersey.
Rolling out of Stoke-on-Trent earlier in the day, at a good pace despite the crosswinds in the Potteries, a number of early attacks were attempted without anything sticking.
Eventually a group of 11 riders earned themselves some breathing space, with King of the Mountain jersey holder Angel Madrazo (Movistar) once again among them after his exploits on stage two.
The Spaniard was joined by stage one combative award winner Anthony Delaplace (Sojasun) and Aaron Gate (AN Post Chain Reaction), who was in the break in the opening stage in Scotland.
Mike Northey (Node 4 Giordana Racing), Iljo Keisse (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), Marco Canola (Bardiani Valvole CSF Inox), Alistair Slater (Great Britain), Ian Wilkinson (Team UK Youth), Mattias Krizek (Cannondale) and Tom Scully (Team Raleigh) completed the group.
Heading west, and consequently facing little chance of a tailwind, the break nevertheless built up an advantage of more than three minutes as they crossed the border into Wales.
Gate and Scully contested all three of the intermediate sprints, with Gate succeeding in Marchwiel, but missing out to Raleigh’s New Zealander, winner of the IG Nocturne, in Ruthin and Denbigh. Gate’s efforts nonetheless ensured he took the Yodel Direct sprints jersey from Nicola Boem.
Having lost some of their lead on the slight incline into Flintshire, the impact of contesting the sprints saw the gap rise to more than three minutes again. Benefitting, finally, from dry roads, the 11-man group worked hard to maintain their lead on the category two climb of Groes, with Sky, as ever, driving the bunch behind them.
Madrazo signalled his intentions to keep hold of the Skoda King of the Mountains by crossing the summit first, ahead of Northey and Delaplace – the latter being his nearest climbing classification rival in the break.
The Spaniard was first to the summit of Llansannan too, catching, overtaking and stretching his lead over Delaplace despite the Frenchman having attacked first and ensuring he would retain the jersey overnight.
Two solid climbs and fast descents by the peloton, with the six Sky riders continuing to set the tempo, saw the deficit to the 11 leaders cut once again however, driving it below two minutes by the time of the final ascent.
Tucked just behind Sky, Cavendish remained in the wings with the potential for a sprint finish, but with Keisse in the break his team – nor any others for that matter – felt the need to attack.
It became clear that the pace on the descents would become crucial on the lumpy parcours and with both the escapees and the peloton taking them at speed the break remained clear as they entered Snowdonia.
Just as it appeared they would stay out all day however, an attack off the front of the bunch by Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) – who was immediately followed by Wiggins and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) – blew the race open. Neither of the GC contenders was prepared to allow a rider of Martin’s pedigree to escape. The Birmingham-born Irishman has already won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Volta a Catalunya, and stage nine of the Tour de France this season.
Martin’s attack did not stick, but team mate Jack Bauer took advantage to counter-attack and with Sky looking to reel in the New Zealander the gap to the leaders fell to just 30 seconds.
Bauer too was caught, with Ian Stannard and David Lopez driving the peloton, and with the sprint teams spotting their opportunity the bunch caught the escapees, who themselves had attacked and counter-attacked each other into the final kilometres.
At the denouement, the Manx Missile did what he does best, powering to victory on the line.
Tour of Britain 2013 – stage four result
1 Mark Cavendish (GBR) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 4:45.52hrs
2 Elia Viviani (ITA) Cannondale same time
3 Steele Von Hoff (NZL) Garmin-Sharp
4 Matteo Pelucchi (ITA) IAM Racing
5 Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) Movistar
6 Owain Doull (GBR) Great Britain
7 Evaldas Siskevicius (LTU) Sojasun
8 Scott Thwaites (GBR) Team Net App Endura
9 Chris Opie (GBR) Team UK Youth
10 Sam Bennett (IRL) AN Post Chain Reaction
1 Sir Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Sky Procycling 16:11.36hrs
2 Ian Stannard (GBR) Sky Procycling +37”
3 Martin Elmiger (SUI) IAM Cycling +47”
4 Jack Bauer (NZL) Garmin-Sharp +55”
5 Alex Dowsett (GBR) Movistar +57”
6 David Lopez (ESP) Sky Procycling +1’17”
7 Michal Golas (POL) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1’18”
8 Sergio Pardilla (ESP) MTN-Qhubeka same time
9 Gerald Ciolek (GER) MTN-Qhubeka +1’21”
10 Alex Wetterhall (SWE) Net App Endura same time