Australian Orica-GreenEdge rider Leigh Howard seized back the leader’s gold jersey in the Tour of Britain as Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish slipped back badly in Thursday’s fifth stage, which was won by Marc de Maar.
UnitedHealthcare’s de Maar of the Netherlands made a break for the front with 6km of the 147km ride around Stoke-on-Trent remaining, making the move only 4km after crashing to the ground.
He crossed the finishing line alone, with Sep Vanmarcke of Garmin-Sharp winning a sprint finish for second place 15 seconds further down the road.
Cavendish fell away from the peloton in the hills and he could not stay close enough to retain his overall lead.
The Manxman dropped all the way down to 35th in the general classification, with Howard seven seconds ahead of Dutchman Boy van Poppel atop the standings.
“I rode an aggressive race. I had some attacks myself, and luckily I had good legs and could stay with those at the front,” Howard told the BBC. “I’ll be having a few problems up the climbs and I can’t see myself still in the gold jersey by the end of the week, but I’m going to try.”
“I knew Cavendish was struggling with the climbs early in the stage, so when the crunch came I knew he wasn’t going to go,” he said. “When the break happened, I just made sure I went with them.”
Meanwhile, a delighted de Maar said: “We were planning for a sprint, but there was a bit of movement, I suddenly saw a gap and decided to keep on going.”
“I had a rough start to the Tour. I was involved in two crashes and I was thinking about going home,” he said. “I’d come to contend the general classification, but lost four minutes in one stage. I lost motivation, but it looks like I have found it again.”
Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins could be a doubt for the world championships next week after pulling out before the sixth stage of the Tour of Britain with illness yesterday.
Team Sky said on their Twitter feed that the Olympic time trial gold medalist had a stomach bug.
The men’s road race at the worlds in the Netherlands province of Limburg takes place a week tomorrow when Wiggins’ British team will be hoping to defend Cavendish’s title.
British Cycling confirmed their lineup yesterday, with Olympic time trial bronze medalist Chris Froome chosen for both Wednesday’s time trial and the road race.