Mark Cavendish leapt to the top of the overall standings at the Tour of Britain after winning a wet and wild fourth stage.
In a carbon copy of Tuesday’s stage, Team Sky were totally dominant again and split the peloton to shreds on the approach to Blackpool before peeling off in turn and unleashing the world champion along the windswept sea-front to wrap up his second consecutive victory.
Time bonuses at the line saw Cavendish open up a six-second lead in the general classification and take control of the IG Markets gold jersey.
The action had commenced under leaden skies in Carlisle, with King of the Mountains jersey holder Kristian House (Rapha-Condor) slipping away early once again and being joined by five further riders who built up a lead of almost seven minutes within the first 32km of racing.
That was when race leaders Orica-GreenEDGE began to monitor the situation back in the bunch, and when Team Sky and Endura leant a hand, the break’s advantage began to fall steadily.
Once the day’s three categorised climbs had been contested, House and Niklas Gustavsson (UK Youth) dropped out of the break, leaving Mathew Cronshaw (Node 4), David Le Lay (Saur–Sojasun), Dan Craven (Team IG) and Ronan McLaughlin (An Post-Sean Kelly) to battle on as a foursome.
On the front
Their days were numbered though when Bradley Wiggins and Christian Knees began drilling it on the front, and the pace that duo set in the crosswinds cut the peloton to around 25 riders before they swept up the remnants of the break inside the last 8km.
It was then that Team Sky’s sprint train came into effect, and Bernhard Eisel produced a huge turn before Wiggins and Luke Rowe led out the Manxman.
Cavendish had waited patiently on Leigh Howard’s wheel, but kicked past the Orica-GreenEdge man on the closing straight before celebrating another comfortable victory.
Steele Von Hoff (Garmin–Sharp) took second place on the day, with Australian compatriot Howard one spot behind him in third.
Back on the bus, Cavendish revealed how the team had followed their plan to the letter, and was delighted with the result.
He told us: “Brad lives not far from Blackpool and the route included a lot of the roads he uses for training. He told us it was very open, and very windy, and he knew the exact place we should go on the attack. It was the perfect call.
“It was a grim day but we ploughed through and waited until that moment 22km from home to split things apart, and although it was difficult to do that with a small team, the fact Endura were riding as well made it easier.
“On those last 5km along the front we just made it so fast that nobody else could get close to us.
“We’d expected a crosswind, but in the end it felt like a tailwind, and we were flying. Luke’s going for the overall so we tried to let him get a bit of a gap like the other day, but then Leigh Howard jumped so I had to go with him, and then it was quite straightforward for me in the sprint.
"I’m really happy to have gone into the lead, and although I can’t see myself keeping the jersey, we’d like to keep it in the team.
"Luke’s going really well, so he’s up for it, and although I’ll try my hardest to stay on top, as long as the team keeps hold of it I’ll be happy.
"I’ve only got a few days left in the rainbow jersey now, so I’d like to wear that again as well."
Sports Director Servais Knaven admitted the team had plenty of options open to them in the days to come, and said: "Tomorrow is a hard day but we'll definitely try to defend the race lead and then see how the race pans out.
"Who we ride for will depend on how everyone's feeling, and how the other teams are riding, because having only six men on each team makes it a hard race hard to control.
"Our priority right now is Cav, but if these next stages turn out to be too much for him then we'll change our tactics. We do have a number of cards to play and we'll change things around accordingly. Luke, Christian and Bradley are all looking really strong, and as long as we win the GC, it doesn't matter to us who's in the jersey.
"Everybody's really motivated to do that and they'll be ready to go again on Thursday."