Cycling: Flying Dutchman too quick for golden boy Cavendish
MARK Cavendish watched his gold jersey hopes fade on Gun Hill as the steep Staffordshire climbs played havoc with the Tour of Britain overall standings.
Cavendish, the race leader heading into the Potteries, and his Team Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins finished 11mins 45secs behind virtually unknown winner Marc De Maar.
De Maar, whose best finish of the opening four stages was 54th, revealed he had thought about catching a flight home after crashes on the first two days.
So the 28-year-old thought it was a familiar story when he collided with Jeremie Galland and Paul Voss on a right-hand bend as the 23-man breakaway group entered the city.
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But he got back on his bike and attacked alone for home four miles from the Hanley finish, eventually breezing across the line with arms aloft and no challenger in sight.
Leigh Howard, who finished in fifth yesterday, replaced Cavendish at the top of the general classification.
"I was surprised there were such long climbs over here," said Dutch-born De Maar, who grew up on the Caribbean island of Curacao.
"It's been a rough week for me. I started with a couple of crashes and lost my motivation, but my team director Hendrik Redant coached me through the next couple of days when I was thinking of just getting a flight home.
"I thought 'oh no' when we crashed again here, but then decided 'no way am I going to lose this'.
"It was a big solo effort to stay away, but as the finish was getting closer I started believing and that gave me an extra percentage to put on my pedals."
Tour de France champion Wiggins stunned crowds in the Staffordshire Moorlands when he turned his bike around and headed back against the tide to find Cavendish.
The 32-year-old tried to act as domestique to guide the "Manx Missile" back to the front, but the gap only grew wider and Cavendish will now need a miracle to regain the jersey over the three remaining stages.
Wiggins, however, was just glad to be back riding in the Potteries after missing out on the 2011 Tour of Britain due to a broken collarbone.
He said: "It's great to race in Stoke-on-Trent and I'm happy to have made it this year.
"It's even better that it's stopped raining like it did in the previous stage at Blackpool. Stoke-on-Trent is a great stage of the Tour of Britain."
Team Sky sports director Servais Knaven admitted his stars' poor performances over the hills could prove pivotal to the result of the whole Tour.
He said: "At that moment it was the point of no return.
"Brad was in between the two groups waiting for Cav and the gap looked shorter than it was. Brad wanted to help us defend the jersey today and did everything he could."
De Maar crossed the line 15 seconds ahead of his United Healthcare team-mate Boy Van Poppel and Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Sharp), who now sit second and third in the general classification respectively.
Australian Howard (Orica GreenEDGE) came marginally later to move seven seconds clear of Van Poppel in the hunt for the trophy.
Three stages remain, starting with a Welshpool to Caerphilly leg today before taking in Barnstaple to Dartmouth tomorrow and finishing with Reigate to Guildford on Sunday.
Howard said: "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.
"I rode an aggressive race. I had some attacks myself and luckily I had good legs and could stay with those at the front.
"I can't see myself still in the gold jersey by the end of the week, but I'm going to try."