Tour of Britain 2012: Howard regains overall lead

Marc de Maar wins in Stoke-on-Trent

This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.

Marc De Maar (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) won stage five of the Tour of Britain after going clear from the decisive breakaway and winning by 15 seconds. Second place went to Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Sharp) with third going to Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling). The gold leaders’ jersey left the shoulders of Mark Cavendish (Sky Pro Cycling) and back on to those of Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE).

Leaving Stoke-on-Trent for the fifth year running, on what is now known simply as the Stoke stage, the Tour of Britain saw 94 riders roll out under blue skies through the beautiful Italian Gardens at the Trentham Estate. When the race finished three and a half-hours later in Hanley, in the city centre, the general classification had been turned on its head with Mark Cavendish dropping out of overall contention and the Australian Leigh Howard regaining the lead he held earlier in the week.

Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) son of the legendary Dutch sprinter Jean-Paul Van Poppel, moved up two places to second overall and Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Sharp) moved into a possible podium position by jumping from eighth overall at the start of the stage to third.

Marc de Maar

The stage win today was extra special for De Maar who explained, "It was a bit of a tough stage today, in fact it’s been a bit of a rough week for me, I started off in crashes on the first two days so I kind of lost my motivation because I came here to do something in the GC but luckily my Team Director coached me through the last few days as I was almost thinking of going home but luckily I didn’t as I won a stage today."

After the rain soaked conditions of the previous day Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) looked much more comfortable in the Autumn sunshine as the race headed towards the beautiful but rugged Staffordshire Moorlands. The Italian took Bartosz Huzarski (Team NetApp) and Bernard Sulzberger (Raleigh) with him and made the move stick, with the gap opening out to over two minutes.

Team Sky were once again controlling things during the day, and with both of his counterparts eventually dropping away from the breakaway on the testing terrain it was left to Basso to go it alone.

As Basso soldiered on the peloton behind began to shatter, with the race blowing to pieces and sending Cavendish out the back of the bunch. Bradley Wiggins opted to drop out the lead group to wait for the world champion. Basso later said, rather pragmatically, "I tried to do my best, but it’s not easy."

A group of 25 riders went clear on the approach to Gun Hill, the final categorised climb of the day. The first-category climb saw British rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing) doing what he does best, cresting the climb first and staying away briefly before being reeled back in.

Sky leads the bunch

With 15 kilometres remaining, and a gap of over five minutes to what was left of the peloton, a number of contenders launched out of the lead group in a bid to further split the race. However, it was De Maar who had the power to stay clear and win the 147 kilometre stage to take, perhaps, the biggest win of his career.

Following his victory the 28 year from the Netherlands said, ‘I am really proud of myself. I Still can’t believe it, too much excitement going on but I am sure we’ll get back to the hotel and realise what is going on.’ De Maar has good reason to be proud of himself after recovering from a crash with 10 kilometres to go and attacking 6 kilometres from the finish to win.

The likeable rider, who is originally from Curacao in the Caribbean, was also impressed with Britain and its bike racing: "This is what real bike racing is about. There is a bit of everything in there – hard climbs, wind, it was nice. Although it was hard, I really enjoyed it today. I was surprised. I didn’t know you guys had that amount of climbs over here, and someone told me there are more to come. I’ve only ever been to Heathrow Airport before! I’ve never been into this country, so I am surprised, it’s a nice country."

The final word went to the wearer of the gold jersey, Leigh Howard: ‘It’s fantastic. The other day was the first time I have worn a yellow jersey in a professional race so that is a thrill in itself, and I am going to try and hold onto it for as long as I can.’

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