Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) retained the yellow jersey in fine style by sprinting to victory in Southampton after 139km of racing on stage one of the Tour of Britain.
The first year professional took his tenth victory in his first season as a professional to move closer to Alessandro Petacchi's first season record of eleven. The bunch was all together as they flew into Southampton ahead of schedule with Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) giving a perfect lead out for the 22-year-old Manxman who seemed to float effortlessly down the final 200m. Cavendish held off the challenge from Steven Caethoven (Chocolade Jacques - Topsport) and JJ Haedo (Team CSC). Cavendish reached high in celebration as he crossed the finish line.
"The team did an amazing job for me today," said Cavendish. "The first 50km were tough with riders trying to get away all the time and we trying to control things but it wasn't happening. It was very windy out there and any team could have done a hell of a lot of damage. Ian (Stannard) did a great job today and he paid for his efforts at the end but will be first on the massage table tonight. The team did a great job of riding on the front all day and I was just sitting comfortably. Roger (Hammond) and Frankie (Rabon) did a wonderful job for me in the sprint. Roger took me further than I needed to go at 200m and it I couldn't lose really. It was perfect."
"Robbie (McEwen) got 7 or 8 European wins in his first season and a few in Australia to give him ten wins and I have matched that now and I am really happy.I have one more victory to go before I reach my season target"
Cavendish is still not sure about holding onto the leader's yellow jersey for the whole week with only a gap of 14 seconds back to Russian Nikolai Trusov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and a long list of riders up only seconds away. "The margin is not very big and we will have to see what happens tomorrow. I am quite scared of tomorrow as it is a tough parcours. If I don't keep the yellow jersey tomorrow I know that there are other people in the team that are going well. Frankie (Rabon) is going great so if I don't have it tomorrow I hope that he will."
How it unfolded
Tony Gibb (Plowman Craven-Evans Cycles) was the first rider to attack at mile zero and the constant attacking many riders brought the race ahead of schedule. Cavendish took the sprint prime at Pamber Heath to move further ahead in the GC on the road. Martin Garrido (Duja Tavira) took second spot with Trusov limiting the damage in third.
The field were all together as they climbed White Hill after 25km and Frantisek Rabon attacked the field just before the top taking maximum EON king of the mountain points ahead of Samuel Caldeira (Duja Tavira), Ben Swift (Barloworld) and last year's race winner Martin Pedersen (Team CSC).
Two riders had managed to break away after 40km to forge a narrow lead on the main field that chased for a while and then let the duo of Mikel Artetxe Gezuraga (Fuerteventura-Canarias) and Piet Rooijakkers (Skil-Shimano) slip away into a two minute lead. The duo worked hard to stay clear with Rooijakkers taking both sprint primes and Gezuraga taking the final KOM prime at Kent's Oak. Cavendish took the final second bonus at the Hatchet Pond sprint prime.
The leaders were now 2'50" in front with alarm bells ringing in the main field.T-Mobile hit the front to lead the chase. Barloworld, Agritubel and CSC joined the charge for line in the closing kilometres with the young GB team also seeing the action at the head of the bunch. The duo must have thought there was a slim chance of staying clear as the blackboard showed a 50 second lead with 8km to go but they were finally brought to heel in the closing stages after over 80km of freedom in tough racing conditions.
Cavendish came round the final corner moving to the front and he held his position all the way to the line
A crash on the run in spoiled the chances of Robbie Hunter (Barloworld) who trailed in over four minutes behind the winner but is he set to start tomorrow's tough Yeovilton to Taunton stage. The riders will have a taste of a first category hill after 80km. A fast run in to the finish will greet any riders who manage to go clear on the Somerset stage.