Clay, seeking a third overall victory in the five-day race, pointed out a discrepancy in times on Saturday's stage to race officials. They re- checked the film of the race finish and, late on Saturday night, Joe Bayfield lost his overall lead to Lovatt.
"I thought it was a bit strange, but I did not protest," Lovatt said. "I could not see how I could be fifth overall as I had finished so far ahead of Bayfield at Chorley."
In yesterday's morning time trial at Cockerham Clay he was fastest by 15 seconds, and 1:09 too fast for Lovatt to reclaim the colours he had worn after winning the Morecambe time-trial four days ago.
His overall advantage of 24 seconds remained intact during a 29.9-miles circuit race here later that was won by Bayfield in a mass finish.
The overnight challenge of Paul Esposti, Saturday's winner at Chorley, vanished with his expulsion from the Tour for discarding his crash helmet during the time-trial. The Welshman's dismissal brought his team manager, Sid Barras, to the brink of withdrawing his squad. "We had a team meeting, and decided to remain, under protest," Barras said. "We are staying out of respect for the work and commitment of the organiser, Gordon Harling, to our sport."
Esposti said he took off the protective helmet, which is compulsory apparel, because the visor was misting over. "I know it was a silly thing to do, but I did it for safety," he said.
But the Tour's chief commissaire, Richard Rowbotham, said: "Under the rules of the race it was the only sanction open to us.
Today's final, and longest, stage will put Clay's lead under severe pressure as the riders trudge through the Pennines before reaching the finish at Manchester Velodrome.
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