British national champion Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step has won Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain in Llanberis on a day when the pelotion left the catch of a group of 11 escapees very late indeed, reeling them in with a little over a kilometre remaining.
It's the former world champion's eighth stage victory in the race but his first in this year's edition, and came after he was set up by Alessandro Petacchi, who joined the team in August.
It also followed a hard-fought sprint at the end of the 190.9km stage from Stoke-on-Trent in which Cannondale's Elia Viviani, winner of the opening stage on Sunday pushed Cavendish all the way to the line.
After crossing it, the Italian veered across to his left, his bike hitting the front wheel of third-placed finisher Steele Von Hoff of Garmin-Sharp who, with a foot unclipped from his right pedal, somehow managed to stay upright and avoid a crash that would have brought down a number of riders.
"It's always nice to win here,” said Cavendish afterwards.
"It's always nice to win in front of your home crowd and I've got a good relationship with the organisers.
"I've seen this race grow over the last ten years, you've only got to look at the crowds in the last couple of years, it makes you proud.
"To be able to do it in this jersey that represents the champion of the country. I'm very proud and very patriotic, so it's an honour for me,” he added.
Safely in the front group was race leader Sir Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky, who continues to top the overall standings ahead of team mate Ian Stannard.
"It was as tough as I thought it was going to be, with the tough weather and the wind,” reflected Wiggins.
"It always looks different on the telly, but the boys, to keep that gap down to 3:50 all the way, did an incredible job and then if we knew it was going to come back as easy as it did in the last 10, 15k, then perhaps we should have left it a bit more.
"I never look forward to the day after a time trial, the change of bike and stuff. But today I felt good. I'm glad it's out of the way though and we've had another day back on the road bike."
The final third of today’s stage, played out under more clement weather than the rain that drenched the riders on the opening three days, featured three categorised climbs and the 11 breakaway riders still had hopes of carrying the day as they came over the last of those, the Pen-y-Pass, crested a little over 10km from the end.
Behind them, Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin, winner of a stage in this year’s Tour de France, sought to attack Wiggins on the climb but the latter, riding today in the IG gold jersey of Tour of Britain jersey, responded.
Next to attack was Martin’s team mate, Jack Bauer, who had started the day fourth overall, less than a minute behind Wiggins, and Team Sky had to work hard to bring him back.
Entering the final 4km, the breakaway riders – including mountains classification leader Angel Madrazo of Movistar, who consolidated his lead in the mountains competition today – had an advantage of half a minute.
It was touch and go whether the peloton would reel them in. Sensing glory, Mike Northey of Node 4-Giordana attacked from the break, the New Zealander managing to open up a sizeable gap before being brought back.
Others to have a crack included Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Iljo Keise and Heinrich Haussler of IAM, as well as another Kiwi, Tom Scully of Raleigh. None of those attacks stuck, however, as the main group continued to close down on them, making the catch ahead of the final kilometre.
Tomorrow’s Stage 5 sees a double ascent of Caerphilly Mountain.
Wiggins revealed that he recced it last week, and expects another difficult day.
"Tomorrow's another day though, an important day," he explained.
"I think the race will be decided on the two laps.
"I looked at this stage last week, so it's going to be another tough day tomorrow, probably the toughest really because of that finish circuit.”
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.