Edinburgh’s festival goers were replaced by cycling fans when the eight-day OVO Energy Tour of Britain set off from the Capital.
A massive crowd gathered at St Giles’ Cathedral on Sunday as the 120 riders representing 20 teams were sent on their way by Provost Frank Ross. And the 190 kilometre stage lived up to expectations, featuring aggressive riding and a hotly contested finish, with fractions of a second covering the first four.
Among the big names looking to make a mark were Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), both of whom were competing for the first time since crashing in the Tour de France.
Thomas is a likely contender and is relishing the chance to post an overall success when the race finishes in his home town, Cardiff, on Sunday. He was thrilled to be back in action on home soil, saying: “The crowds are unbelievable these days, it’s incredible to see how far it’s come. The first one I did was with Cav back in 2005, so it’s a bit different to then.”
For his part, Cavendish tempered expectations before the start.
“I love the route,” said the Manxman. “I’ve recovered from my broken shoulder now. I wasn’t really going to be racing but I couldn’t miss this opportunity to race at home, especially when it starts in Scotland.”
His caution was well-founded as he struggled with a tough route and a buffeting from the wind as the riders made their way through East Lothian to the Borders.
A group of eight made an early break and established a lead that was above three minutes at one point. However, the escapees were eventually reeled in on the final climb of the day, a sharp incline out of Melrose with 20 kilometres to race.
That effort took the sting out of some of the sprinters and it was left to only four men to contest the race for the line across the cobbled surface in Kelso Square.
In the event, the Australian Caleb Ewan (Orica Scott) took the honours ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen, a team-mate of Cavendish and twice a Tour of Britain champion. He is well placed to challenge for a third successive victory for his team. The third man in the photo finish was Team Sky’s Ellia Viviani.
Today’s stage, the longest of the week, covers 211 kilometres from Kielder Forest to Blyth in Northumberland.