LONDON (AFP) — World champion Mark Cavendish blew his chance to start the Tour of Britain with a stage victory when he crashed with a sprint finish in sight on Sunday.
Cavendish hit the deck in the closing moments of the opening stage as riders collided along the narrow lanes of Norfolk.
But his Team Sky mate Luke Rowe went on to claim the stage win, steering clear of the carnage to beat a small group across the line.
“The past month I have started to find my feet and adapt to the level of racing and I came into here with quite a lot of confidence,” Rowe said.
“It was a race I always wanted to do, so to get called up and now to win a stage is pretty special really.”
Teammate Bradley Wiggins, who also took a tumble in the finale, said Rowe was a worthy winner.
“Luke deserves it, he has been knocking on the door all year, has had some third and fourth places — what a day to shine for him,” said Wiggins, winner of the 2012 Tour de France and the Olympic time trial.
“I have had easier days on the bike, but it was nice to be back in the team racing, to have a job, a role and routine.”
Despite the sweltering temperatures, the route was lined with enthusiastic spectators, many of whom were keen to pay tribute to Wiggins for his recent triumphs.
“(The support) is on a par with the Tour de France, but you kind of expect it to be like that now with the Olympics and everything else we have done. However, it is really nice,” Wiggins said.
A group of four, including Kristian House of Rapha Condor, Rony Martias of Saur Sojasun, United Healthcare’s Jonny Clarke and AN Post’s Niels Wytinck, made an early break from the peloton.
As the 200km course moved up along the East Anglia coast and on past the halfway stage, they had opened up a lead of around three-and-a-half minutes over the chasing pack.
But the peloton closed to under two minutes behind the breakaway ahead of the final King of the Mountains category 3 climb at Swanton Morley.
The bunch finish seemed to be to Cavendish’s advantage as he had managed to stay clear of some collisions after the peloton was finally reeled in inside the closing 15km.
However, as the group headed for home, a final crash claimed Cavendish and his stage bid was over.