Olympic time trial champion Sir Bradley Wiggins, who a week tomorrow will seek to add the world title in Tuscany, was the only rider to go below 20 minutes in the individual time trial on Stage 3 of the Tour of Britain today. The Team Sky rider clocked a time of 19:54:20 and also takes over the race leader's gold jersey from MTN-Qhubeka's Gerald Ciolek, who went almost 2 minutes slower.
Wiggins' time on the 16.1km course at Knowsley Safari Park was 32 seconds quicker than that set by the next-fastest man, team mate Ian Stannard. Garmin-Sharp's Jack Bauer was 10 seconds further back in third place.
Movistar's Alex Dowsett, British champion for the past three years and who beat Wiggins to take his first Grand Tour stage win in an individual time trial at the Giro d'Italia in May, caught the rider in front of him, former Sky team mate Mat Hayman, with just under a kilometre to go but was nearly a quarter of a minute slower than virtual leader Bauer when he crossed the line.
On a third successive day of Britain's biggest race being ridden on wet roads, although today at least the rain held off for the later starters, UnitedHealthcare rider Philip Deignan, joining Team Sky next season, is reported to have broken his collarbone after crashing.
Tomorrow's Stage 4 takes the race from England into Wales, running from Stoke-on-Trent to Llanberis
After his win, Wiggins, who had started the dy 30 seconds behind Ciolek, said: "I've made no secret that I really want to do well in this race. I had to win today, whatever.
"The conditions weren't ideal for me, but I thought I'd rather end up in hospital today than be beaten, so it was 100% commitment.
"I didn't flinch on the roundabouts in the wet, and fortunately the hospitals are close to where I live, so my wife could have visited me. I knew that...I was prepared to end up in hospital than lose the race today. It went perfect.
"We're in a great position”, he went on. "Yesterday I was quite worried about Gerald Ciolek, because if he takes time bonuses every day, Edvald Boasson Hagen won this race [in 2009] like that.
"He's [Ciolek] a good climber, and I thought it would be difficult, but I've taken a nice chunk of time out of him today, and hopefully that's enough.”
With five stages left, including some tough climbs in Wales as well as a summit finish, Wiggins isn't taking anything for granted.
"It's always going to be difficult," he admitted. "I don't expect it to be easy. There are time bonuses at the end of each day, but we've got a strong team. We took responsibility from the start, and we're here to win.
"I've wanted to win this race for a few years, and having done the Tour and the Vuelta for the past few years, I've never had the opportunity to do it."
He rode the race last year, effectively as a lap of honour to enable home fans to applaud his successes earlier in the summer.
"I was in no condition last year to ride the race after the Tour and Olympics," he confessed.
"At this time of the year it's nice to be in great shape to compete well in this race. Every year this race gets more prestigious, gets the more kudos.”
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.