However, Team Dimension Data’s Cavendish was involved in a crash which also included Team Sky’s Olympic omnium champion Elia Viviani in the last kilometre on a tight corner as teams tried to assemble their riders into a position to challenge.
ONE Pro Cycling’s Peter Williams, who won both the white and green jerseys last year, was among the early pacesetters along with An Post-Chain Reaction pair Emiel Wastyn and Jasper Bovenhuis, Jonathan McEvoy (NFTO) and Tom Moses (JLT Condor) as they attacked the three categorised climbs in Scotland.
Meanwhile, Dimension Data, LottoNL-Jumbo, Orica-BikeExchange and then Team Sky were all lined up on the front of the peloton with 21km to go as they closed the gap to 45 seconds.
The breakaway riders were eventually caught in the final 10km with Lotto Soudal and Trek-Segafredo leading from the front before Team Dimension Data finally made their move to bring Cavendish into prime position for a strong finish. Team Sky, led by Viviani, and Orica-BikeExchange began to strike as teams jostled for position in the final kilometre but as Manxman Cavendish and Viviani became casualties on the final corner, Greipel was perfectly placed to streak through and claim the yellow jersey.
Britain’s Chris Latham (Team Wiggins) and Dan McLay finished ninth and tenth respectively while Sir Bradley Wiggins was a distant 111th.
Stage two begins in Carlisle before finishing in Kendal.
Greipel told ITV4: “It’s really nice to start off this Tour of Britain with a victory and now we reached our goal for the first day and everything else is on top.
“I’ve done six weeks of training after the Tour de France and this race is really important towards the next goal [October’s Road World Championships]. The Tour of Britain is quite a tough race, but it’s the right moment in the race calendar.”
Meanwhile, Chris Froome lost almost three minutes on overall leader Nairo Quintana as Gianluca Brambilla won stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana.
Movistar’s Quintana and Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador were among a large group that broke away from the peloton early in the 118.5-kilometre stage, from Sabinanigo to a summit finish on the Aramon Formigal in Sallent de Gallego. Each had two team-mates in the breakaway while Froome was left to lead the chasing pack with little support from his Team Sky colleagues, aside from David Lopez.
The leading group pulled two minutes clear climbing the Alto de Petralba and kept pushing, Team Dimension Data’s Omar Fraile taking the three climbing points on offer there and five more on the Alto de Cotefablo.
Contador took two intermediate sprint points but it was Quintana who surged away along with Brambilla with 1.5km to go.
Brambilla won the stage by three seconds but Quintana, crucially, finished two minutes and 37 seconds ahead of Froome to take his overall lead over the second-placed Briton to 3:37. Esteban Chaves (Orica Bike-Exchange) lies third, a further 20 seconds back, with Contador fourth and Chaves’ British team-mate Simon Yates fifth.