Greg Henderson won Stage 2 of the Tour of Britain in Stoke-on-Trent this afternoon, and while the New Zealander may come from the other side of the planet, the victory had a very British flavour with two of Team GB's Beijing gold medal heroes, Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas, working hard to get their Team Sky colleague into a race-winning position.
The trio had got into an early breakaway on today's 160.8km route, equivalent to exactly 100 miles to reflect the centenary of the incorporation of Stoke-on-Trent, which hosted both the start and finish of today's stage, the itinerary heading out of the Potteries into the hills of the Staffordshire countryside before looping back for the finale.
That early escape initially comprised 18 riders, and despite the attrition of the undulating terrain and strong winds took their toll, most survived to fight out the sprint between them, although there were attempts by individual riders to get away on their own.
Richie Porte of Team Saxo Bank, wearing the leading sprinters jersey, jumped off the front to showcase the climbing skills that helped him win the young rider's classification at this year's Giro d'Italia, cresting the summit of Gun Hill ahead of his fellow breakaway riders, but was soon brought back.
Then, with a little over 10km to go, Cervélo TestTeam’s Heinrich Haussler and Michael Golas of Vacansoleil attacked off the front of the escape group, but they were unable to make it stick and were caught 3km further down the road, although they did pick up sprint points along the way, Golas crossing first.
With the peloton finishing well behind the breakaway riders, the likelihood is that this year's winner will come from the 15 riders who contested the sprint, and while Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen isn't here to defend the title he won 12 months ago when with HTC-Columbia, it looks like Henderson is the man designated to try and succeed him.
Certainly, reports from race HQ prior to yesterday's Stage 1 from Rochdale to Blackpool in which Henderson finished third behind Andre Greipel were that the Kiwi rider was pumped up, and his perfomance in the opening two stages suggest that he could be the man to beat.
On a twisting approach to line following an uphill drag in Stoke-on-Trent, Henderson won convincingly from HTC-Columbia's Michael Albasini, with Haussler holding off Skil-Shimano's Koen de Kort to take third.
Besides the three Team Sky riders, Porte, Haussler , Albasini, de Kort and Golas, the list of those who stayed away comprises Borut Bozic and Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil, Dan Craven of Rapha-Condor-Sharp, Patrick Sinkewitz of ISD-Neri, Christian Meier from Garmin-Transitions, Robert Partridge of Endura Racing and Colnago-CSF Inox rider, Alberto Contol.
After the stage, Hoogerland, pictured below on the podium after being presented with the Honda Combativity Award with Henderson and Porte, expressed doubt over whether the New Zealander would manage to wear the leader's jersey all the way to London next Sunday.
“I think it’s very difficult for Henderson to keep the jersey. He is good on the hills, but we are getting a few hilly stages, so I think it is difficult for him," and laid down the gauntlet to Britain's sole ProTour team. “We are not satisfied with sixth place on the General Classification, so we are going to try and win the Overall. We had three in the first group and we have Wout (Poels) and (Matteo) Carrara in the peloton, but they are also in very good condition, so I think we can make it pretty hard for Sky.”
Hoogerland is also clearly relishing the route, saying, “It was not what I expected. I spoke to Dan Martin yesterday and he said tomorrow is not a heavy stage, and then I just wanted to take it easy until stages four and five, as I know these are the heavy stages of The Tour of Britain."
The Dutchman, racing in Britain for the first time, singled out the factors that for him made it a unique landscape in which to ride. “I’ve never been to England before, I was only one night in Heathrow, but that’s all," he confessed. "The mountains are steep; it’s totally different to Belgium or France. It’s steep, a little bit flat, steep and a lot of corners. It’s a beautiful landscape. Today it was perfect with like twenty riders, but with the whole peloton and then on the top of the climbs with a little bit of wind from the side it’s difficult.”
Hoogerland added that he took extra motivation for the Tour of Britain to prove a point after Vaconsoleil failed to receive an invite for the Vuelta, in which the team performed well last year when the race started in the Netherlands, and he himself being ledft out of the Dutch team for the World Championship.
"I just want to show that I have to be there," he explained. "I am always good in September and October, so it is the same this year. Maybe when someone is injured I can go, but maybe I am not really motivated anymore for doing that race, I just want to do a very good Tour of Britain.”
Meanwhile, in potentially worrying news ahead of the World Road Race Championships in Australia in three weeks’ time, Haussler’s team mate Jeremy Hunt twice had to be treated by the race doctor early on in the stage.
Hunt, along with Garmin-Transitions’ David Millar, himself a replacement for the originally selected Geraint Thomas, is one of just two British cyclists who will help Mark Cavendish in his bid to win the rainbow jersey in the 263km race from Melbourne to Geelong.
One rider who did abandon today was the 23-year-old Dutch rider Ricardo van der Velde of Garmin-Transitions, a late call-up to the argyle outfit's squad, who had tweeted before today's stage "Don't have the legs yet i hoped for."
Tour of Britain Stage 2 Result 1) Greg Henderson Team Sky 3:59:52 2) Michael Albasini Team HTC-Columbia same time 3) Heinrich Haussler Cervelo TestTeam " 4) Koen De Kort Skil-Shimano " 5) Patrick Sinkewitz ISD-Neri Giambenini " Honda Combativity Award Johnny Hoogerland, Vacansoleil Pro Cycling General Classification (after two stages) 1) Greg Henderson Team Sky 7:16:23 2) Michael Albasini Team HTC-Columbia @ 0.14 3) Heinrich Haussler Cervelo Test Team " 4) Richie Porte Team Saxo Bank " 5) Koen De Kort Skil-Shimano " The Prostate Cancer Charity Points Jersey Greg Henderson, Team Sky The King of the Mountains Jersey Richie Porte, Team Saxo Bank The Sprints Jersey Richie Porte, Team Saxo Bank
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.