First the finish of stage two into Knowsley Safari Park failed to go quite the way he had intended after a perfect buildup from Bradley Wiggins in the final kilometres, while a small gap in the bunch at the finish meant that his Team Sky colleague Luke Rowe lost the race leader's yellow jersey.
Amid the lions, tigers and camels, Cavendish was left with the hump rather than a victory roar after he pulled off Rowe's wheel in the final kilometre. The young Welshman looked to be setting him up for a probable sprint victory after Wiggins had produced the same surge that propelled Cavendish to two stage wins in the last three days of the Tour de France.
Cavendish dipped back into the line, as Rowe explained, because there was a small dip in the road coming up, and he wanted to use it to gain momentum and "rush" his rivals. "He wanted to get a run, but unfortunately the other riders switched from left to right and he got chopped up," said Rowe, adding that his leader was "annoyed."
Cavendish was unable to make his final effort until close to the line, by which time the Australian Leigh Howard had opened a gap that could not be bridged, although the Manxman got to within a bike length. "He showed how fast he was, you could see how fast he was coming up; there are other finishes where he will win this week," said Rowe.
Team Sky raced to their 100th victory over the weekend, a more than respectable tally close to the end of their third season; their progression in that time to a team boasting a Tour winner and a rainbow jersey will have been noted by the Australian management at GreenEDGE, a new team this year that enjoys a similar link to the Australian national squad to the one between Sky and the Great Britain track team.
GreenEDGE – co-sponsored by the minerals giant Orica – have tapped into a rich seam of Australian talent that includes young stars such as Howard, a former omnium world champion on the track, and the outrageously rapid Jack Bobridge, the driving force in the team pursuit squad that took the silver medals in London. Thus far in their debut season, they have fared better than Sky did in theirs, with 33 wins including the Milan-San Remo Classic, although like Sky they flopped in their debut Tour de France.
The run across the Peak District north of Nottingham produced the expected early break of six, with the British teams Rapha-Condor-Costa, Node 4 and Raleigh all represented alongside Bobridge. The pattern at this race is for the early move to be given its head before the teams with an interest in the stage win and the overall title get mobilised, and so it proved, with Sky and Endura – on behalf of their climber Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, who is set to move to Sky at the end of the season – controlling the racing almost to the bitter end.
Rowe was awarded the yellow jersey on the podium before the judges changed their minds having ruled that there was a significant enough gap in the peloton for him to be put 1sec behind Howard, which meant the Dutchman Boy van Poppel found himself thrust into the leader's jersey. On Tuesday, the climbers get more opportunities in the border hills between Jedburgh and Dumfries, with a rolling run to the end and a final kick before the finish that could cause the lead to change again.
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