Mark Cavendish narrowly missed out on a stage two victory in the sprint at the Tour of Britain. The world champion was forced to check up mid-sprint and would place second on the line, Leigh Howard finishing just ahead to take the victory.
The Australian (Orica-GreenEDGE) denied the British fans the chance to witness a Cavendish success by producing a well-timed burst of pace in the final metres.
It was overnight leader Luke Rowe who led the world champion into the final metres, with Cavendish opting to drop back in the line with only one lead-out man remaining heading onto the finishing straight in Knowsley Safari Park.
Not contesting the sprint, Rowe was unable to cling on to the IG Markets leader’s jersey, Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) edging into the garment due to better stage placings. Rowe now sits one second behind the Dutchman in third heading into stage three.
Team Sky had hit the front with only a handful of kilometres remaining, with Christian Knees setting the pace before handing over to Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins.
The stage had always looked likely to end in a bunch sprint as the peloton took on 180km trek from Nottingham to Knowsley - the roads again lined with fans as the British public turned out in their thousands.
After the finish Rowe talked through the closing kilometres, and the decisions which went into it.
"With 600m to go I led into it with Cav in my wheel," he explained to ITV4. "He said he wanted to try and let me go and slip a few wheels back. We knew there was a bit of a dip and he'd use the run.
"Unfortunately on that dip the riders switched from right to left and he got a bit chopped up. Cav's shown how fast he was in that finish. It's frustrating but you could see how fast he was coming up at the line."
Sports Director Servais Knaven admitted it was a shame to come so close to victory but was happy with how the team had approached the stage.
“Cav wanted to let Luke go and leave the gap," he said. "A few others came through and he was still in a good position. He had to brake in the sprint as a rider moved to the left. He had to check up and start sprinting again.
“That’s part of the job but it was a pity as he was fast enough to take the win.
“We controlled the whole stage and then we got help from Endura at the finish. It was a hard day. There were a lot of twists and turns so it was not easy. The team put together a really good lead-out at the end and we’ll look to do the same again tomorrow.”
Break of the day
As the race headed out of Nottingham, six riders went clear and built up a buffer of over four minutes on the chasing pack.
That bunch was led by Team Sky for the second day running, leading the group through a torrential downpour at one point as the British weather flexed its muscles.
With the gap tumbling to the escapees it was Pete Williams (Node4 – Giordana) and Jack Bobridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) who were the last to be caught, the pair scooping the sprint jersey and the combativity prize respectively.
From then on it was a fight for positioning, Endura hitting the front in the closing kilometres, while Marcin Bialoblocki (Node4 – Giordana) was among a number of attackers who chanced their arm on the run-in.
Results, Stage Two, Nottingham to Knowsley, 180.7km:
1) Leigh Howard, AUS, Orica GreenEDGE, 4:31:09
2) Mark Cavendish, GBR, Team Sky, same time
3) Boy Van Poppel, NED, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, same time
4) Steele Von Hoff, AUS, Garmin - Sharp, same time
5) Russ Downing, GBR, Endura Racing, same time
6) Sep Vanmarcke, BEL, Garmin - Sharp, same time
7) Wesley Kreder, NED, Vacansoleil - DCM, same time
8) Nathan Haas, AUS, Garmin - Sharp, same time
9) Sam Bennett, IRL, AN Post Sean Kelly, + 0.01
10) Luke Rowe, GBR, Team Sky, + 0.01
Rouleur Combativity Award:
Jack Bobridge, Orica GreenEDGE
IG Gold Jersey, General Classification
1) Boy Van Poppel, NED, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, 9:22:04
2) Leigh Howard, AUS, Orica GreenEDGE, same time
3) Luke Rowe, GBR, Team Sky, + 0.01
4) Rony Martias, FRA, Saur Sojasun, + 0.04
5) Mark Cavendish, GBR, Team Sky, same time
6) Russ Downing, GBR, Endura Racing, + 0.06
7) Steele Von Hoff, AUS, Garmin - Sharp, + 0.10
8) Sep Vanmarcke, BEL, Garmin - Sharp, same time
9) Nathan Haas, AUS, Garmin - Sharp, same time
10) Peter Hawkins, IRL, Team IG - Sigma Sport, same time
Chain Reaction Cycles Points Classification
1) Boy Van Poppel, NED, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, 27pts
2) Russell Downing, GBR, Endura Racing, 24pts
3) Luke Rowe, GBR, Team Sky, 21pts
4) Leigh Howard, AUS, Orica GreenEDGE, 15pts
5) Rony Martias, FRA, Saur Sojasun, 15pts
SKODA King of the Mountains Classification
1) Pablo Urtasun, SPA, Euskaltel - Euskadi, 30pts
2) Russell Hampton, GBR, Team Raleigh - GAC, 26pts
3) Richard Handley, GBR, Rapha Condor, 25pts
4) Kristian House, GBR, Rapha Condor, 22pts
5) Jack Bobridge, AUS, Orica GreenEDGE, 21pts
Yodel Sprints Classification
1) Peter Williams, GBR, Node4 - Giordana Racing, 15pts
2) Rony Martias, FRA, Saur Sojasun, 12pts
3) Kristian House, GBR, Rapha Condor, 9pts
4) Jonny Clarke, AUS, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, 7pts
5) Matthias Krizek, AUT, Liquigas - Cannondale, 7pts