Tour of Britain: Mark Cavendish claims Stage Four win with thrilling sprint finish that sees Sir Bradley Wiggin retain the yellow jersey

Manx Missile takes his first win of the Tour after peloton catches 11-man breakaway with just 1km to go

This was how the race organisers would have imagined it when they first planned the fourth stage of the 2013 Tour of Britain; fine autumnal weather, stunning scenery with Snowdon looming over the finish, Bradley Wiggins safe in the golden jersey and Mark Cavendish, slung low over his handlebars, storming through to snatch a thrilling stage win. Tick, tick, tick and tick.

The best day of the race ended with Cavendish, sporting his national champion’s jersey, bundling over the line in Llanberis to claim his eighth stage win in the Tour of Britain, and his 17th of the season, after a bunch sprint. A hair-raising finale culminated with Cavendish hauling in a breakaway group of 11 riders on the scramble to the finish in the small Welsh town where Dave Brailsford’s father was once a climbing instructor. Cavendish had been some 30 seconds adrift of the lead group as the descent from Pen-Y-Pass, a category three climb, began but hit the front with 300m to go and hung on.

“It was kind of hopping there in the last 500m,” said Cavendish, who praised the efforts of his veteran wingman, the “old and wiley” Alessandro Pettachi in setting him up for the finish. “It made it quite dangerous catching a break of 11 riders in the last kilometre, it causes chaos on the road.”

But Pettachi delivered Cavendish to his jump-off point and the Briton did the rest to hold off Elia Viviani, who had ruined the script on day one in Scotland by winning a first stage that many had fancied would belong to Cavendish and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team.

Wiggins crossed the line looking comfortable in Cavendish’s wake to maintain his hold on the leader’s jersey and an advantage of 37 seconds on team-mate Ian Stannard. It was the perfect end to the perfect day for the host nation, but the 191km stage that had begun in Stoke did not altogether pass without alarm for Wiggins and Sky.

The 11-strong breakaway, that included the promising young Briton Alistair Slater, opened up a gap of four minutes at one stage as Sky were left to do the majority of the work on the front of the peloton. But as the route swung into the foothills around Snowdon that lead began to come down, with the impressive Stannard shouldering the Stakhanovite role in reeling the breakaway in. As the peloton climbed up to Pen-Y-Pass first Dan Martin, the Birmingham-born Irishman, and then Nairo Quitana attacked. Wiggins went with them but for an alarming moment he was isolated. It proved little more than a moment though and Stannard and co were soon re-attached to their man.

“It always looks easier than it is but it was tough out there,” said Wiggins. “There was a lot of wind and cold weather but the boys did an incredible job. They rode all day to keep the gap at about three or four minutes, and then on the final climb, Ian took it up and did a really impressive job. The attacks started coming but I was always riding just a little bit within myself.

“I knew the run-in as well because Sir Dave Brailsford lived in this town and it’s another day ticked off because there are no easy days in the Tour of Britain.”

Certainly today will not be. The fifth stage is possibly the toughest of the eight, ranging for 177km across the Brecon Beacons and including four category one climbs and a double ascent of Caerphilly Mountain. With another hilly stage to follow after that, Wiggins’ lead will come under pressure ahead of Sunday’s finale in London.

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