Australian Leigh Howard was too fast for Mark Cavendish in an anxious finale to the second stage of the Tour of Britain.
The world champion dropped the wheel of team mate and tour leader Luke Rowe with 600m to go, a move that proved costly as he was unable to come around the thundering Orica-GreenEDGE rider before he stole line honours.
"I had to fight hard to get Cav's wheel, but I did get it," said Howard. "I went through the last few corners on his wheel. They were tight turns, so it was single-file coming out of the last corner onto the home stretch."
"I started my sprint at 250 meters," Howard continued. "It's a long sprint, but I've learned that I've got a bit more length in my sprint from the leads out I've done throughout the season."
It was a frustrating stage for Team Sky who worked tirelessly all day, with Cavendish failing to deliver the goods and Rowe losing the lead to Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) who placed third in the final sprint.
An early six rider breakaway opened the action on the 177.8km stage from Nottingham to Knowsley, giving the peloton something to focus on as they tackled three early category one climbs in rapid succession.
Jack Bobridge (Orica-GreenEDGE), Peter Williams (Node4-Giordana), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel Euskadi), Richard Handley (Rapha Condor), Matthias Krizek (Liquigas Cannondale) and Russell Hampton (Team Raleigh-GAC) collected the sprint and King of the Mountains points as they pushed their advantaged out to four minutes.
It was Team Sky and Endura Racing who took charge of the chase.
With 50km to go and the peloton reeling in their lead, Bobridge attacked his breakaway companions. Only Williams was able to go with him.
The pair worked hard to regain their advantage while the remainder of the break sat up and waited to be collected by the rapidly approaching peloton.
Bobridge and Williams pushed their lead out to over two minutes, but with 28km to go, their advantage was under a minute and their dream was over when the peloton engulfed them 5km later. Bobridge’s efforts were later rewarded with the most combative title.
While the An Post Sean Kelly team relieved Sky of the duties on the front of the race, Marcin Bialoblocki (Node4 - Giordana Racing) made a solo attack 8km from the finish.
The peloton let him dangle in front as he exhausted himself and folded with 3km to go. Just as he was sucked back into the field Net App launched an attack, causing chaos in a disorganised bunch.
Sky regained control of the chase with 2km to go. Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins lead the field, with yellow jersey Rowe behind him, sheltering Cavendish.
Their lead-out looked as if they would effortlessly deliver the goods, but Cavendish's decision to drop Rowe's wheel opened up the sprint to the rest of the field, with Howard striking at the ideal moment.
Stage 2: 177.8km: Nottingham-Knowsley
1 Leigh Howard (AUS) Orica-GreenEDGE 4hr 31min 09sec
2 Mark Cavendish (GBR) Sky
3 Boy Van Poppel (NED) UnitedHealthcare
4 Steele Von Hoff (AUS) Garmin-Sharp
5 Russell Downing (GBR) Endura
6 Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) Garmin-Sharp
7 Wesley Kreder (NED) Vacansoleil-DCM
8 Nathan Haas (AUS) Garmin-Sharp
9 Sam Bennett (IRL) An Post-Sean Kelly 0:00:01
10 Luke Rowe (GBR) Sky
1 Boy Van Poppel (NED) UnitedHealthcare 9hr 22min 04sec
2 Leigh Howard (AUS) Orica-GreenEDGE
3 Luke Rowe (GBR) Sky 0:00:01
4 Rony Martias (FRA) Saur-Sojasun 0:00:04
5 Mark Cavendish (GBR) Sky
6 Russell Downing (GBR) Endura 0:00:06
7 Steele Von Hoff (AUS) Garmin-Sharp 0:00:10
8 Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) Garmin-Sharp
9 Nathan Haas (AUS) Garmin-Sharp
10 Peter Hawkins (IRL) IG-Sigma Sport 0:00:11